The opening game of the Boys Class 2A regional Monday night featured a game within a game as the 11th-seeded Knoxville Blue Bullets (11-15) upended fifth-seeded Mercer County 64-56.
A pair of seniors - Tyler Houston for the Blue Bullets and Spencer Wood for the Golden Eagles - put on quite a display of offensive basketball. Houston, with a lot of help from his teammates, led the charge to a 15-point lead late in the third quarter. At that point the Eagles' Wood, with help from junior Ben Nichols, their team back as they scored all 19 points Mercer County (17-14) tallied in the fourth quarter.
Wood finished the night with a game high 28 while his teammate added 16. Knoxville Coach Mark Simpson said, "That Wood is a ton. I thought Tyler (Houston) did a great defensive job but he (Wood) made shot after shot from all over the place."
The big difference was the help Houston got from his teammates. Erik Engebretson and Gabe Sandoval each tallied 12 while the unsung hero may have been Garrett Grice coming off the bench in the second half. The senior entered the game when it was tied at 24. He promptly scored seven straight points to propel the Blue Bullets to a 31-26 lead at the break.
Grice finished with nine points total with a basket in the third quarter.
"What a shot Garrett (Grice) gave us coming off the bench," said Simpson. "The play from our entire bench was outstanding tonight."The
Bullets led 9-8 at the end of the first quarter.
Both offenses started clicking in the second stanza with the Blue Bullets outscoring the Golden Eagles 22-18 for a five point lead at the half. Five quick points from Houston to open the third quarter and the lead was up to 10 and steadily increased to 15 with eight points from Houston and six from Sandoval. The lead at the end of three was 50-37.
Led by Wood and Nichols, Mercer County cut the lead to 57-56 with 1:40 to play as Nichols scored on a back door layup. Houston got the lead back up to 59-56 at the 1:17 mark with jump shot from the lane. At that point, Houston came up with the defensive play of the night. He stole the ball with 41 seconds to play. That was followed by the four straight rebounds he snagged, each time
being fouled. The senior made five of eight charity shots in the final 41 seconds to ice the victory and send the Blue Bullets to the regional semifinal on Wednesday. Houston also hauled down 18 rebounds.