All four local high school teams were on the road for the opening night of the Tennessee high school basketball season on Tuesday, with Oneida traveling to Campbell County and Scott High making the trek down U.S. Hwy. 27 to Oakdale.
Here's what we learned:
Lady Highlanders 58, Oakdale 34: Scott High went back to assistant coach Morgan Boyatt's alma mater, and the results were about what we would've expected — a dominating win for the Lady Highlanders.
This is an Oakdale program that has fallen on hard times. The Lady Eagles have won just won game since last Christmas, and that may not change anytime soon. But it's also a Scott High team that we thought might struggle for an identity early with four of last year's starters not returning, so to score a 20-point victory on opening night was impressive.
Fred Snow, the dean of high school basketball coaches in this area, likes to slow you down and force you to play at his tempo. It's not uncommon for teams to find themselves stuck with offensive output in the 40s or even the 30s even when they beat Oakdale. Scott didn't shoot the ball especially well -- in fact, the Lady Highlanders hit just 22 percent of their attempts from inside the 3-point line -- but to score 58 is not too shabby.
This was a game where everyone on the Scott High bench saw quality playing time. And 10 of 12 varsity players scored, including one of the team's freshmen, Alaina Duncan.
The biggest question as Scott High opened the season wasn't who was going to lead the team -- senior Grace Sexton, a 3-year starter at point guard, is the team's undisputed leader -- but who was going to help her. To that end, McKayla Babb joined Sexton in double figures in Game 1. Each had 12 points.
Also perhaps notable: Kenzie Smith, a newcomer to the Scott High team, is going to be asked to be a force on the boards for the Lady Highlanders. Last night, she led the team in rebounding, with six.
Campbell County 62, Lady Indians 41: If you read too much into Oneida's Game 1 loss at Campbell County, you'll be doing so at your own peril -- at least if you're among the Lady Indians' future opponents.
It was a rough night in LaFollette, one that saw the Lady Indians trail by as much as 27 points before getting the deficit under 20 points late. There was one thing that stood out, though, and that was the difficulty that Oneida had scoring the ball. Jayden Thomas had 13 points, but only one other player -- Gracie Martin, with 11 -- finished with more than five against a stout Campbell County defense.
However, you can't note that fact without also pointing out that senior guard Shay Buttram, who may ultimately prove to be Oneida's most consistent scorer, was in street clothes as she continues to recover from a knee injury. She's just now beginning to return to workouts and won't be medically cleared for another couple of weeks.
The biggest thing, though, was Campbell County. Literally. The Cougars have size all over the court, and they shoot the ball remarkably well for a big team. Size and shooting ability can be a lethal combination, and this was a night where Oneida was simply out-sized.
Campbell County is coming off a 21-win season that saw the Cougars advance to the region semifinals before losing to Bearden, an eventual Final Four team in Class AAA. The Cougars are a state tournament hopeful this season and the team's leader, Skylar Boshears, who scored 23 points against Oneida, signed with Furman on Wednesday morning.
Things won't get any easier for Oneida on Saturday, when the Lady Indians head to Huntsville to take part in the Twin K Hall of Fame Classic at Scott High. They have drawn Bearden and Dresden there, two more teams that will likely wind up in the state tournament. And after that they play Clarkrange twice in the early season. But don't be too quick to write off this team. Coach Marv West likes to schedule them tough early to help prepare his team for February and March, and it almost never fails that we see a Lady Indians team that gets off to a rough start in November competing for region championships in late February.
Scott High 71, Oakdale 40: This is a score that certainly raised some brows around East Tennessee. But it gets even more impressive than that: It was 52-16 at halftime, before Scott High called off the dogs.
Oakdale is a team that won 28 games last season, winning district and region championships to advance to the state tournament.
Now, with that said, it's a different Oakdale team than it was last year. Jackson Hicks is gone, and he was the engine that made that team go. Also gone is Nathan Arrowood, the team's second-best player. The top returning players are Dawson Smith and Rhett Nelson, who combined for 13 against the Highlanders, but this is an Oakdale team that is going to struggle after several years of relative dominance in District 3-A.
Still, it was an impressive opening for the Highlanders. Eleven different players scored, including four freshmen.
One of those freshmen, Trey Morrow, has been called "the most ready freshman I've ever seen" by his coach, Jordan Jeffers. Morrow proved he could live up to the billing on Tuesday, scoring a game-high 16 points in his high school debut. Also impressive: Noah Buttram and Luke West, two more freshmen, teamed up for 11 points.
Meanwhile, Logan Goodman showed that he is back to 100 percent after an off-year due to a knee injury, scoring 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
As a team, the Highlanders shot 43 percent, which is an impressive clip. They were only 5-of-27 from 3-point range, which will have to improve, given that they'll be a relatively small team when district play begins. But it was a good opening night in Oakdale.
Oneida 74, Campbell County 61: Perhaps the biggest statement of the opening night came in LaFollette, where Oneida defeated Campbell County by 13 points after leading by more than 20. And here's the footnote that has to be mentioned: Oneida didn't play its best game. Far from it, in fact.
Now, that obviously has to be tempered by saying that Campbell County is not a strong basketball program. The Cougars are coming off a 9-win season. But this was still a Class A team competing against a Class AAA team, and anytime you can step up two classifications and win by double-digits, that's impressive. And it's even moreso when you consider that two players who will eventually be starters -- Kolby Morgan and Elijah West -- had only been with the team for a couple of practices due to football season and came off the bench for Tuesday's game.
At times in the second quarter and third quarter, Oneida looked like a team that is going to win a lot of games and compete for the District 3-A and Region 2-A championships this year. At times in the first and fourth quarters, the Indians looked like the young team that they are -- a team that will struggle from time to time as it grows up. Coach Jacob King was frustrated by his team's inability to close out Campbell County late in the fourth quarter.
Senior Chance Botts continued his strong play, with four 3-pointers and 21 points, while sophomore Nate Bowling had 20 points.
Then there was the shooting, which is what will carry the Indians this season. They shot 60 percent from the field, including 54 percent from 3-point range. And put up 74 points against a Class AAA team. This is a team that shoots the ball as well as any Oneida team in recent history, and a team that will score more points than any Oneida team in recent history, which is a big reason why King has said they will be a fun team to watch. Much bigger tests will come Saturday, when Oneida faces Maryville and Clarkrange at Scott High.
The Bottom Line: Consider this -- not only did three out of four local teams win on the opening night of the high school basketball season, but two of the three leading scorers were a sophomore (Oneida's Nate Bowling) and a freshman (Scott's Trey Morrow). These are names local basketball fans will be hearing for a few years to come.