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Cool as a cucumber… Cyclones shake off a lackluster start to upend South, 65-58

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
In sports, if you have heard the saying “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” one time you have heard it a thousand times. However, it stills proves true today and if one doesn’t believe it – just ask the Elizabethton Cyclone team after Tuesday night’s showdown between the number one and two teams in the Three Rivers Conference.
The way the game began, the Cyclones for all intents and purposes looked like a team that was getting ready to be put on a bus and rode out of their own gym as it seemed that South just couldn’t miss whatever they threw up at the cylinder building a 28-16 lead at the first stop of the night.
However, from that point, the Rebels would only muster 30 more points in the contest as the Cyclones made key adjustments and slowly chipped away at the Rebel lead to stun the boys from Kingsport defeating the Rebels 65-58.
It was the first loss of the season in conference play for South and only the fourth loss of the season for the state’s ninth-ranked Rebels.
“We got caught like a deer in headlights – we’ve done that before,” said Cyclone head coach Lucas Honeycutt about the start. “They didn’t panic. It was a defensive thing that we needed to adjust and they adjusted.
“We started rebounding the ball better and they started missing some shots after we started to guard them better. That’s just part of it. You can’t keep shooting like that the whole time. I thought we showed a lot of resiliency because we have been in that situation before.”
Once again, it was the play of Brayden Phillips, who for the second straight game, seemed to bring calm to his team as Phillips stroked two treys in the first quarter at key times to help his team stay in the game.
William Willocks also played valuable minutes scoring six points as well.
With it being Senior Night, it was only fitting that Nico Ashley inserted himself when his team needed him the most as the lanky Ashley floated through the paint, leaping over the Rebel defense to score eight second-quarter points to trim the lead to 34-29 going into the locker room.
A pair of back-to-back treys from Ashley in the third quarter seemed to turn the tide for the Cyclones as the period ended with the Cyclones trailing by only one, 43-42.
The fourth quarter was when Elizabethton made its move toward the front outscoring the visitors 23-15 to send the home crowd into a frenzy and the Rebels back to Kingsport to lick their wounds.
Ashley finished the game with 22 points to lead the Cyclones (11-13, 9-2). Willocks and Parker Hughes added 14 points apiece.
Hughes had a big part in the fourth-quarter uprising scoring seven and knocking down a trey in the run.
Phillips quietly finished with 11 points as four Cyclones reached double figures. Jake Roberts closed out the scoring with four points.
Ben Diamond finished with 19 points to lead the Rebels (23-4, 10-1). Cole Layne and Gannon Chase tossed in 14 points each.
Ashley said the win was special to the team on a special night.
“It means the world to us really. It’s just a great feeling heading into the tournament,” Ashley said. “We both get byes as the number one and two seeds obviously. It was a great experience tonight a great confidence booster.
“It was nerves coming out. We just needed to calm down and once we settled down we started playing better. We started playing better defense and sped them up making them hit tougher shots and they hit some of them but we were also getting open looks running our offense and getting great shots and knocking them down.”
Ashley went on to say that his time as a Cyclone has past quicker than batting an eye.
“It’s gone by way to fast. I have had the time of my life playing basketball these last four years and this year has been really special. We started really rough but here at the end of the year, we turned it on.”
The Cyclones wrapped up regular-season play on Wednesday night with a game against Unicoi County.