Fulton wins ‘ugly’ to claim state berth

By Steve Williams

Fulton took surviving and advancing to an extreme in last week’s Class 3A sectional round.

The Falcons had what seemed to be a comfortable 17-point lead late in the third quarter but had to battle in the final minute to eliminate Stone Memorial 58-54 at Jody Wright Arena and secure a berth in this week’s BlueCross Basketball Championships at Murfreesboro.

The Panthers from Crossville outscored Fulton 20-3 and pulled into a 54-all tie when sharpshooter Matthew Milbrey hit a 3-pointer from the left corner to even the score with 1:01 on the clock.

Seconds later, after both teams had moved to Fulton’s offensive end of the court, Milbrey went down with cramps in both legs.

Officials stopped the game to allow the senior guard to be attended to and taken back to his team’s bench.

It was Tyler Lee and Taj Kimber who pulled Fulton through.

With 48.2 seconds on the clock, the Falcons held the ball for the last shot and Lee went in for a dunk but had to settle for two free throws after being fouled. Lee made both shots to give his team a two-point lead with 3.5 seconds left.

Following a timeout, Stone Memorial set up to make a throw-in pass from its baseline. Milbrey returned to court. Taj Kimber positioned himself at the free throw line on the opposite end of the court. Taj intercepted the pass and was immediately fouled with 1.5 seconds remaining. He sank both foul shots to give the Falcons a four-point lead and all but lock up the win.

Fulton Coach Jody Wright called a timeout at 1.2 seconds to make sure his players would not foul. The Falcons gave the Panthers a 3-point shot that was off the mark.

The veteran Fulton coach was not surprised by the close finish.

“They are never easy this time of year as much as you would like for them to be,” said Wright. “I just felt this game was going to go right down to the wire and I told our guys at halftime that this game was going to be won and lost in the last two minutes.

“That’s a classic example of this time of year,” added Wright. “Whether you win ugly or whether you win pretty, it’s all about winning. And tonight we made that an ugly win and I’m tickled to death with it because it’s all about surviving this time of the year. We’re still standing and that’s all that matters.”

Fulton (29-5) will face Volunteer High (24-11) in the opening game (Class 3A) of the tournament on Tuesday at 10 a.m. (CDT) at Middle Tennessee State University’s Murphy Center.

Both teams are nicknamed the Falcons. Other than that, they have little in common. Fulton will be making its 27th appearance in the state tourney, while Volunteer will be making its first appearance.

Fulton has won three state titles and finished runner-up six times.

Volunteer High is located in Church Hill, about 10 miles from Kingsport.

“Our coach said don’t let anything get behind you, so I anticipated the pass and got the interception,” said Taj Kimber, recalling what might have been the play of the game.

As for the state tourney, Taj said: “We got three games man. I feel we can go all the way and win it. We’ve just got to be prepared.”

Twin brother Denaj Kimber led the Falcons with 20 points, including three of his team’s seven 3-pointers. Lee was close behind with 18 points and Taj tallied 11.

Fulton also had a good night at the free throw line, sinking 8 of 9.

Milbrey led Stone Memorial (25-7) with 21 points. Sophomore Cade Capps, the son of SM Head Coach Neal Capps, scored 14.

Fulton led 20-12 after the opening eight minutes and 29-22 at halftime. Lee stepped out and bombed in a 3-pointer from the right wing to give the Falcons their biggest lead at 51-34 in the third.

Both teams went cold in the first four minutes of the final period and the Falcons remained that way as they scored only seven points in the quarter.

Stone Memorial had an 11-0 run during a six-minute scoring drought for Fulton to get within six (51-45) with 3:10 to go and eventually tied the score as the contest headed into the final minute.

“I’m really proud of our team and how they fought and didn’t lie down in a very, very tough environment,” said the Panthers’ Coach Capps. “To be able to come back from 17 down and tie it like they did, I couldn’t be more proud of them. Just the legacy our seniors showed right there and how they are leaving the program in a better place, I couldn’t be more proud of our team.”