BY JOE AVENTO, Johnson City Press
ELIZABETHTON — Eric Wilson was surprised when Nico Ashley threw down a dunk that changed the momentum of the Region 1-AA basketball quarterfinals. He wasn’t as surprised at the dunk as he was at his own pass.
“Nico dunks that in practice,” Wilson said. “But I can never get the lob to him.”
They teamed up perfectly in a Monday matinee as Elizabethton pulled away from Grainger for a 48-41 victory at Treadway Gym.
The Cyclones (23-6) advanced to the regional semifinals, where they will face Johnson County on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. at Happy Valley High School.
The Region 1-AA boys semifinals were moved from Tuesday to Wednesday after three of the quarterfinals were postponed Saturday because of flooding and teams didn’t want to play quarterfinals and semifinals on back-to-back nights.
Grainger finished its season at 17-13.
Ashley’s dunk was part of a furious Elizabethton run as the Cyclones pulled away from a 33-33 tie heading into the fourth quarter and made just about every play to win going away.
“It’s obvious when a guy dunks it in a high school game, it’s just something people don’t see a lot around here,” said Wilson, who led Elizabethton with 16 points. “On the play, you just want to score, but if he dunks it it changes the game. It gets the crowd going.”
It also got the Cyclones going. They never trailed down the stretch.
“Whenever Nico put the dunk down, the whole gym changed,” Elizabethton coach Lucas Honeycutt said. “Our kids came with it. They feed off that and we got a little more aggressive.”
That aggressiveness came with a fullcourt press that gave Grainger fits. The smooth offense and accurate outside shooting that had built a 5-point lead in the first half had been ground to a halt. The Grizzlies were held to eight points in the final quarter.
“The intensity changed on the press,” Honeycutt said. “We got better pressure on the ball and they made some mistakes.
“Just overall, I felt our kids made things happen and that’s the way it’s got to be in tournament time. We’ve done a lot to prepare for these moments and the kids take it from there.”
Ashley finished with 10 points. Jeb Hurst led Grainger with 15 points. Luke Jones added 12.
Elizabethton 48, Grainger 41
Hurst 15, Grubb 1, Robinson 4, Williams 3, Jones 12, Warfield 3, Evans 3.
Rollins 5, Hughes 3, Wilson 16, Ashley 10, Everett 6, Perkins 3, Roberts 5.
Grainger 11 01 12 8 — 41
Elizabethton 10 10 13 15 — 48
3-point goals—Grainger 6 (Hurst 3, Robinson, Warfield, Evans), Elizabethton 5, Perkins, Wilson 2, Roberts, Ashley).