By Maurice Patton
Returning from a pandemic-based hiatus without its coach, Zion Christian’s boys basketball team fell victim to a second-quarter surge Monday as its season came to an end.
Middle Tennessee Christian advanced to the quarterfinal round of the Division II-A District 3 Tournament with a 62-30 play-in road victory.
“You could tell we hadn’t played in two weeks,” said A.J. Long, standing in for Eagles coach Derek Boyd – still sidelined from COVID. “Half our team practiced Friday; we had nine Saturday, and everybody else came out of quarantine today except one.
“Saturday, just getting up and down (the floor) – we were rusty.”
Zion (3-12), which had lost its fourth straight game on Jan. 25 before going into a COVID pause, trailed 15-12 to end the opening period Monday and scored to start the second quarter. But after a Max Brown basket made it a 20-16 game just inside the six-minute mark, Middle Tennessee Christian outscored the hosts 19-2 to go ahead 36-18 at the half.
“They were aggressive, and we didn’t defend in the halfcourt very well in man (-to-man),” MTCS coach Jason Piercey said. “They scored 18 points in the three quarters we played zone.”
Long said the Eagles’ struggles were partially because of the layoff – and partially because the Cougars are better than their 1-21 record would indicate.
“Our outside shooting hurt us,” he said. “We did a good job getting to the rim in the first quarter, but once we got tired, we started settling for shots we’re not comfortable with, turning (the ball) over. Once they packed it in and went to that 3-2 zone, we didn’t make the shots.
“They’ve got the ability to get out and run. We talked about playing at our pace, but we couldn’t hit outside shots.”
Middle Tennessee Christian was likely to earn the No. 5 tournament seed before having to forfeit all of its victories last week when one of its players was ruled ineligible. The Cougars did beat Grace Christian to end the regular season, but officially finished ninth.
With the win, MTCS will travel Wednesday to regular-season district champion Christ Presbyterian Academy.
“We played them pretty well at our place,” Piercey said. “They’re a complete team. It’s going to be a challenge. We’ve got to shorten the game.
“A good team, well-coached, at their place – it’s no walk in the park, for sure.”
Devin Hill came off the bench to score a game-high 17 points and lead MTCS, with Andrew Adams adding 14 points and Brock Culpepper and Ross Prosser 11 each. Brown scored eight points to lead Zion Christian offensively.
Middle Tenn. Chr. boys 62, Zion Chr. 30
M 15 21 13 13 – 62
Z 12 6 9 3 – 30
Middle Tenn. Chr. (62) – Colton Phillips 1, Max Oxley 1, Brock Culpepper 11, Andrew Adams 14, Devin Hill 17, Ross Prosser 11, Trent McGowan 3, Aleric Watson 4
Zion Chr. (30) – Max Brown 8, Jackson Hughes 3, Jaron Keyser 5, Hayden Headley 1, Wesley Riggins 2, Ethan Yates 7, Connor Matheny 4
3-pointers – Middle Tenn. Chr. 5 (Culpepper, Adams, Prosser 3), Zion Chr. 1 (Hughes)
Photos by Vanessa Beach / SM-Tn Sports