Fulton goes back-to-back … again!

By Steve Williams

Fulton High has raised its boys basketball program another notch.

It had been Knox County’s only school to win back-to-back TSSAA state championships. Now the Falcons have done it twice under Coach Jody Wright.

Fulton (35-2) traded jabs with Memphis Ridgeway in the early going, then went on an 11-0 run that the Roadrunners could not overcome en route to a 68-47 win in the Class 3A finals Saturday night at MTSU’s Murphy Center in Murfreesboro.

Wright felt the Falcons’ “defensive pressure” was the key to the win and Ridgeway Coach Curtis Wooten said “turnovers” were the difference in the game. The two go hand in hand.

“I felt like we did not let those guys get comfortable,” added Wright. “We knew how dangerous they could be and how good they were. Then the second thing was we answered every time they made a run. I thought that was huge.

“With the poise that you would expect out of a veteran bunch, we answered every time.”

Fulton’s 6-5 senior forward Tyler Lee led the way with 22 points and was selected the tournament MVP. Senior wing Taj Kimber, who had not been up to par in the quarterfinal and semifinal games, finished the tourney strong with 13 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.

Senior guard Dexter Lewis contributed 10 points and nine rebounds.

These three plus senior point guard Denaj Kimber and freshman standout Nick Steen, who chipped in nine points, made the All-Tournament team.

Ridgeway (27-6) got 15 points from point guard Marlon McShane, but he also had six turnovers. Forward Brian Carter contributed 12 points and power forward Emanuel Allen scored 10 points and blocked four shots but also had six turnovers.

As a team, Ridgeway committed 22 turnovers compared to Fulton’s eight.

The Falcons’ defense did a good job of anticipating passes by the Roadrunners and getting in their passing lanes to build their lead in the first half.

McShane drilled a 3-pointer from the left corner to cut Fulton’s lead to 13-12 late in the first period. But Steen fed the ball to Lee for a basket inside to spark the Falcons’ 11-0 run. With 21 seconds remaining, Fulton held for the last shot. Taj Kimber’s 3-pointer from the left wing went through the net as the buzzer sounded.

Ridgeway was whistled for an offensive foul on its first possession of the second period and the Falcons continued their run as junior guard Derrick Smith scored on back-to-back layups. After a timeout, Denaj Kimber intercepted a pass and Carter was assessed a foul for being on the back of Lee.

Taj Kimber made a jump shot from the left of the key to give the Falcons a 24-12 advantage and Ridgeway took another timeout.

Fulton took a 30-21 lead into the locker room at halftime, while Coach Wooten kept his team on the sideline. The Falcons continued to lead by nine (45-36) after three periods. Fulton pulled away by outscoring Ridgeway 23-11 in the final eight minutes.

Wright got a little emotional in the team’s post-game meeting with the media.

“It’s really hard to put into words what these guys have put into our program,” he said.

Fulton first won back-to-back state titles in 2008-09.

“Going back to back is probably the hardest of all,” said Wright, who has been the Falcons’ coach since 1985-86. “I think these guys will reflect one day and realize all that they accomplished and how special this was.”