By Steve Williams
Fulton’s basketball team built a comfortable first-half lead in the TSSAA Class AA state championship game, but veteran head coach Jody Wright knew his Falcons had to keep working.
“Brainerd is the type of team you can’t relax against,” Wright told a state-wide television audience on his way to the dressing room at intermission with Fulton leading by 14 points. “We’ve got to keep defending and rebounding.”
He couldn’t have been more prophetic.
Brainerd finished the third period with an 8-2 run and seized the momentum. The Panthers pulled within one point with three minutes to go.
Once again, the Falcons would have to re-win a ball game, and that they did.
Freshman standout Trey Davis hit a pull-up jumper to give Fulton a three-point lead. Then 6-3 senior center Joe Kimber contributed two huge plays – drawing a charge on one end and sticking in a missed free throw on the other – to increase the advantage to five.
Senior Larry Roe made two clutch free throws, Kimber tipped in a missed shot and freshman Dashaun McKinney added a layup to cap the strong finish that produced the 59-50 title win.
It was Fulton’s third state championship. The Falcons won back-to-back crowns in 2008 and 2009.
“They’re all pretty sweet,” said Wright. “I’m so proud of these guys coming down here and grinding through three games in a row. There’s nothing better than winning here on a Saturday night.”
Fulton had balanced scoring in the title game with Davis netting 14 points, Donovan Filer 12, Roe 10 and Kimber nine.
Senior point guard Kentel Williams tallied only four points but had a team-high 10 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end, and also a team-high four assists.
Filer led the Falcons with five steals. Kimber also pulled down seven rebounds.
Jesse Walker led Brainerd (30-6) with 23 points and 13 boards.
The Falcons had pulled out a 52-49 win over Chattanooga Central in the quarterfinals and sparkled in a 75-66 semifinal win over Fayette-Ware. Their 32-2 worksheet set a new school record for most wins.
Back in Knoxville last week, Wright said the Falcons played their “best game” at the state in the win over Fayette-Ware when they shot 47.2 percent from the field to go with their tough defense. He also said Fayette-Ware was “probably the most talented” of the three opponents Fulton faced at the state.
The play of reserves throughout the state tournament was a reflection of the regular season.
“We had played 10 guys throughout the course of the year and all of our subs had either been the leading scorer or had come in and had a good game,” said Wright.
“You go back to Markese Sheely who plays all the guard positions to Donovan Filer to Josh Berry, Chaton Mobley, Cumecus Cates. Those are the 10 who have played the most. All of those guys have come in at some point in the year and had big nights. That’s a nice luxury to have when you’ve got a bench that is quality and that can give you good minutes.”
The fact Fulton developed depth was a key to the championship season, pointed out Wright.
“The press and pace of play throughout the year worked out to our advantage throughout the year because we could play a lot of guys,” said Wright.
“This defensive team at times could be suffocating. They would make you play faster than you wanted to play. And usually when teams play faster than they want to play, they make mistakes.
“This team could hold their own defensively with any team I’ve had.”
HAPPY FRESHMAN: When Davis heard his name called out as the tourney MVP, a big grin quickly spread across his young face.
Joining Trey on the Class AA all-tournament team from Fulton were Mobley, Filer and Williams.
GOOD SPORTS: Fulton’s cheerleaders, coached by Kim Pratt, received the Sportsmanship Award among Class AA cheer squads.