MURFREESBORO — Athletes are supposed to have short memories, but the Sevier County boys’ basketball team might have a hard time washing Wednesday’s game from their minds.
All that could go wrong went wrong against Whitehaven in the Class AAA state quarterfinals at MTSU’s Murphy Center, and the Smoky Bears’ first trip back to the state tournament in nearly three decades concluded with a 60-24 loss in a game where they were massive underdogs to a larger and more-athletic squad.
“The moment was just too big for us, and I hate that for our kids,” Sevier County coach Ken Wright said of his players. “They’re great kids and have done a fantastic job all year.
“But we knew we were going to struggle at the rim because of their size. But we couldn’t buy a 3. We’ve lived on it all year long. We come down here and go 0-for. It was more their defense. They get into you and make it tough to move the ball.”
Whitehaven (25-7), last year’s state runner-up, advances to a Friday Class AAA state semifinal 1:15 p.m. Central, when the Tigers will play either Bearden or Franklin.
Wes Maples led Sevier County with 17 points. The Smoky Bears (25-7) needed a big first half to throw a scare into Whitehaven and possibly hang around for four quarters in its first trip back to state since 1991.
The opposite happened.
Sevier County had 14 turnovers in the first 16 minutes, shot 18.8 percent and didn’t score its 10th point of the first half until Cam Burden hit a foul shot with 7 seconds left in the second quarter.
But all that did was cut the Tigers’ lead to 28-10 just before the break.
Whitehaven’s 6-foot-3 junior guard Matthew Murrell, a 4-star recruit and Tennessee target, dazzled the crowd with a pair of dunks. He added more high-rising theatrics in the second half and finished with 17 points.
Whitehaven’s 7-4, 275-pound center Jordan Wilmore blocked a couple shots, grabbed a few boards, dunked once and made both his field-goal attempts in the first half. He finished with nine points and four blocks.
It all came too easy for The Haven, and they returned from the break with 6 minutes still left on the halftime clock. There wasn’t much to dissect or analyze.
Meanwhile, Sevier County returned to the floor with no time left to even get a warm-up shot.
“I felt like I couldn’t reel them in. I felt helpless over there,” said Wright. “I wanted to help them more. I wish I could have.”
The offense just never clicked. Sevier County went without a field goal from Wes Maples’ layup with 4 minutes left in the first half until Maples’ jumper with 1:28 left in the third.
Maples’ three free throws at the 2:01 mark of the third were the Smoky Bears’ first points of the quarter.
The running clock started in the fourth, and Whitehaven’s coach didn’t officially bench his stars until 2 minutes remained.
Sevier County went 0-for-15 on 3-pointers. Whitehaven was 1-for-17.
Still, only two players depart from Sevier County’s roster: guards Noah Savini and Jake Agee. Four of the Smoky Bears’ starters, including star Maples, will return for the 2019-20 season.
They might get a chance at redemption next year.
“I remember past teams I had that went to state. That first year is always tough,” said Wright. “They’ve never been in that situation.
“Our guys have had a tremendous season. I love these guys. They’re a great group of guys. But, it just seems like their physicality was too tough for us to handle.”