HARRIMAN — Defense never slumps.
It was an old saying that seemed appropriate here Thursday evening, as Oneida shocked Harriman, 61-58, to win the school’s first Region 2-A championship in 17 years.
Just eight days after the Blue Devils had defeated the Indians in the District 3-A championship game by putting up 91 points, with 32 of those poured in by district MVP Jayden McCullum, Oneida limited Harriman to 58 points, and basically shut down McCullum.
For everything McCullum was in that February 20 meeting, his teammate Trezdin Copeland was Thursday. Copeland, the son of former University of Tennessee quarterback Jermaine Copeland, scored 30. But it was the Indians’ defense on McCullum that set the tone.
After getting torched by McCullum — who scored 17 first quarter points — in the district championship game, Oneida coach Jacob King vowed to switch to a man-to-man defense if he got another shot at the Blue Devils. He did just that, with Elijah West and Trenton Clark primarily drawing the assignment of guarding McCullum. And it clearly disrupted Harriman’s gameplan.
While McCullum finished with 14, he scored most of those in the final period. He did not have a field goal until the final 20 seconds of the third quarter. That helped Oneida build a double-digit halftime lead, 38-27, en route to ending Harriman’s 12-game winning streak. The Blue Devils had won 21 of their last 22 games.
“Every kid that I put on that floor contributed tonight,” King said. “Every kid.”
For a while, it appeared that foul trouble would spoil the Indians’ championship hopes. At one point, four of Oneida’s five starters — West, Chance Botts, Nathan Bowling and Dalton Yancey — each had four fouls, just one short of fouling out. Yancey eventually did foul out, finishing with eight points.
But a key to the game was Botts. Called District 4-A’s best point guard by his coach, the senior showed why by scoring a team-high 21 points in Thursday’s game, including 13 in the second half. He repeatedly got to the rim for layups against Harriman’s defense, which tried in vain to draw charges against him.
Harriman shot 48 percent from the field despite an Oneida defense that was playing aggressively. However, the Indians shot even better: 60 percent, including 72 percent from inside the perimeter.
The second half saw things get interesting. Harriman trimmed the lead to three points early in the fourth quarter, and gave Oneida fits with good defense of its own. After committing just four turnovers in the first half, the Indians had 11 in the second half. With five minutes to go, Oneida began stalling the basketball, attempting to shorten the game — in part to stymie Harriman’s momentum and in part because of the mounting foul problems.
The strategy worked, as Harriman with Kolby Morgan scoring to give the Indians a five-point lead with 5:05 remaining. McCullum quickly answered, but Botts hit a huge 3-point shot with four minutes left to build the lead to six.
McCullum answered with a 3-point play after being fouled on a successful shot attempt, trimming the lead back to three. Then after Morgan made one of two free throws, Bowling got a steal and basket to put his team up by six with 1:06 to play. It felt like Oneida was one stop away from winning the game at the free throw line.
Instead, McCullum knocked down a 3-pointer to cut the lead back to three.
In a one-possession game, though, Harriman fouled West, who made one of two free throws to make it a two-possession game. Harriman was unable to score, and Morgan’s rebound led to two free throws by Botts with 25 seconds remaining.
Copeland scored an uncontested layup to cut the lead to four, then scored again after Oneida uncharacteristically missed a free throw, making it a two-point game. But there was only nine-tenths of a second remaining, and Clark made one of two free throws at the other end, after which time expired.
Oneida will host Cosby in the sub-state round Monday at OHS Gymnasium. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
ONEIDA (61): Botts 21, Bowling 9, Yancey 8, Clark 7, Morgan 7, Perry 5, Carson 3, West 1.
HARRIMAN (58): Copeland 30, McCullum 14, Stubbs 6, Braizelle 4, Adkisson 2, Martin 2.