Thomas Jefferson boys escape with 78-72 win over Mitchell
The Thomas Jefferson Gryphons got their conference season off on the right foot but it wasn’t easy.
TJCA squandered a 17-point second quarter lead, trailed by as many as six points in the third quarter, but came back and held on to take an important 78-72 win over Mitchell.
The victory gives the Gryphons the early lead in the Western Highlands Conference, a fact that is not lost on coach Ken Hines.
“This was a huge win for us,” he said. “Not only is this a conference win but it is also win on the 1A side and it’s never too early to start thinking about the playoffs.”
It was the Efrim Borders show early for Thomas Jefferson (3-3, 1-0) as the speedy junior scored his team’s first six points all on fast layups.
After Mitchell went on a short 4-0 run, Brooks Corder scored on a put back and Truth Freeland hit a floater in the lane. Borders then turned another layup into a three point play and Freeland hit a deep three as the home team bolted to a 20-11 lead after the first quarter.
“Our speed was the key to the game,” said Hines. “I knew Mitchell could not stay with us in the man to man and we really took advantage of that.”
Justus Freeland canned another three to open the second quarter while Nathaniel Devon followed suit with a triple of his own. Devon put back a miss on the next trip down the floor as the Gryphons led 30-13.
Armed with a 17-point lead, the TJCA bench saw valuable minutes.
Ian Minder made a driving layup and Chris Mintz followed a missed shot with a basket. That’s when Mitchell embarked on a 9-2 run to claw their way to within 10 points.
Borders restored order by taking the ball to the basket and sinking the two foul shots that resulted from the drive. However, Mitchell’s Ryan McKinney scored at the halftime buzzer to make the tally 38-29 at the half in favor of TJCA.
After Mitchell scored eight straight points out of the locker room, McKinney hit a short jumper to give the visitors their first lead of the game.
After the TJCA tied the game with a foul shot at 39-39, the visitors went on a 6-0 run capped by an Austin Mask three point play. Borders answered with his speed, stripping the ball for an easy layup and knocking down two foul shots after another drive.
By the time he hit a floater in the lane, the game tied at 45-45. After Mitchell had grabbed a one-point lead, Justus Freeland hit a three and TJCA maintained a 50-49 lead going into the fourth quarter.
“We went for the knockout punch and missed and they came back on us,” said Hines. “But I’m really proud of the way the team fought back and took this game.”
Devon opened that final with a period with a personal 5-0 run including a three-point play. He then made a back cut and Borders found him for an easy layup to make the tally 59-50.
The game then went back and forth until Sam McKinney drained two straight 3-point baskets to cut the TJCA lead to 67-65 with 3:05 left.
Justus Freeland then converted a backdoor layup and hit one of two foul shots to give his team a 70-65 lead with 1:18 left From that point the Gryphons were able to salt the game away from the foul line as Nick Mintz canned 5-6 from the line down the stretch as TJCA held on for the 78-72 win
Borders led three Gryphons in double figures with 20 points.