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State’s No. 1 ’Dawgs claw hard versus nation’s No. 4 Oak Hill before falling

The Oak Hill Warriors (24-0) are No. 4 nationally in the ESPN/RISE magazine Fab 5 poll and No. 4 in the ESPN Top 25 for a reason. If there are many better teams across the country, the floor is open for nominations.

The Warriors, obviously accustomed to the big-game atmosphere, home or away, came to Bearden (21-2), took the Bulldogs’ best shot, and went home with a 96-86 win in front of a large and vocal crowd that spilled out of the stands onto each baseline. (First reported at

It was one of the classic games in Knoxville basketball history, well played on both sides. It was a long-awaited game from the Bearden perspective, with an excellent chance of paying dividends down the road.

“The crowd was right with us,” head coach Mark Blevins said. “When we talked about this game a couple of years ago, we talked about playing in Bristol. They usually play this particular Friday night in Bristol, Va.

“I wanted our student body involved and to see a game of this magnitude. The kids deserve a game like this against a national team. This was primarily for the Bearden community, but there’s a lot of other people who got in, too.“

It was an amazing setting. There were ticket brokers outside the gym, a sure sign this was a “hot ticket,” the Knoxville media were there in full force and white-shirted Bearden students created a great atmosphere for a game played with great intensity, way beyond that of a state tournament final. Fans will be talking about this one for years to come.

For 32 minutes, it was ebb and flow, nip and tuck. When Bearden’s Ty Greene knocked home two threes at the outset, the gym was rocking and rolling from that point on.

Lamont “Mo Mo” Jones, who is looking at Kentucky, Memphis, Syracuse and Xavier, had 27 and Keith “Tiny” Gallon, an Oklahoma commitment, scored 26 points, while Doron Lamb added 24 for Oak Hill. Jones led the way from the point, Lamb from the wing and Gallon was a presence inside.

For Bearden, 6-foot-9 post Demonte Simpson came off the bench for 25 points, battling furiously inside against an Oak Hill club that actually towered over the Bulldogs. Blake Jenkins, who knocked several Warriors shots into the stratosphere, had 15, Dustin Craig and Nathan Parker added 14 each, Jaeland Lawson had seven, Greene eight, Galen Campbell two and Rico White one.

“People doubted us, but we came out ready to play,” Simpson said. “We played our hearts out and left it on the floor. That’s what we didn’t have last year. We didn’t have the heart to come back and fight for wins. We have 15 guys who can play. It doesn’t matter.”

Bearden led 23-20 at the first quarter break, and was tied with the Warriors at 32 late in the second period, before a pivotal 14-7 run just before the half was capped by a Jones three-pointer at the buzzer that at the time seemed to be a dagger shot.

The Warriors, although challenged seriously after intermission, kept a working lead and made the requite plays to expand the margin and withstand the Bulldogs’ finishing kick. They had an answer for every Bulldog run.

Oak Hill had a 46-39 halftime lead and seemingly put the game away amassing a 78-63 margin early in the fourth quarter.

But the Bulldogs rallied furiously, Lawson hitting a big three-pointer that cut the lead to 84-76, then rallying to 88-82 moments later. The Warriors, who were 23-of-32 from the line for the night against Bearden’s 8-of-13, then made 8-of-8 foul shots in the waning moments to establish the final margin.

“They were really good down the stretch,” Blevins said. “We’re right on Jones, their point guard, and he’s hitting those threes.

“Our kids hung tough. I noticed Demonte said, in the past, if we got down, that was it for us. We had a lot more heart tonight,” Blevins added. “There were no tricks. We came out and played as hard as we could. That’s exactly the way I wanted to play them.”

Gabe Campbell mentioned the game was a “phenomenal experience,” adding the “crowd was really into it the whole game. The game gave us a lot of confidence.”

Blevins said the team’s attention now had to be on the upcoming game matching Class AAA No. 1 Bearden with Class AA No. 1 Austin-East at BHS Tuesday, Jan 27, after the girls game that tips at 6:30 p.m. “We have to get ready. They’re undefeated and really good. We’ll see if we’ve matured.”


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