OAK RIDGE — Maryville established itself as one of the best teams in the state with its fast-paced, 3-point-shooting offense, but when it needed a bucket the most, it couldn’t get one to fall.
The Rebels endured a four-minute, 42-second scoring drought late in the fourth quarter that quelled their hopes of a comeback against District 4-AAA rival Bearden and sealed a season-ending 55-43 loss in the Region 2-AAA semifinals Tuesday at Oak Ridge High School.
“We had really good looks,” Maryville coach Mark Eldridge told The Daily Times. “I’m so proud of our guys. We got down early as we have with those guys, but give our guys credit. They just worked and clawed to get back in it.
“There were two really good teams out there. I still think we’re one of the five best teams in the state, but we won’t get a chance to go down to (Murfreesboro).”
Maryville (28-4) trailed by 13 after allowing six offensive rebounds and 11 second-chance points in the first quarter, but it slowly chipped away at that deficit over the next two-and-a-half quarters.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by junior Joe Anderson and senior Christian Gale to open the scoring in the fourth tied the game at 40 with 5:24 left to play, but the Rebels couldn’t get anything to fall afterwards.
Senior Elmo Gara missed a layup under the rim with more than four minutes remaining in the period, and Anderson had a 3-pointer rattle out with 3:25 left.
Maryville’s only field goal during the stretch came from Gale with 42 seconds remaining. Meanwhile, Bearden (27-5) scored 12 points — the last two coming on a dunk by Ques Glover as the final buzzer sounded.
“We didn’t get the win, but I thought we played really hard,” Eldridge said. “Against a more talented team than we are, I thought our guys were really good.”
Anderson scored a team-high 17 points, 15 of which came from behind the arc while being guarded by Drew Pember once again. The Tennessee signee limited Anderson to 11 points on Feb. 5 to help the Bulldogs cruise to a 23-point win.
Pember picked up his fourth foul with 7:11 left in the fourth, mere seconds after getting whistled for his third, but the Rebels were unable to send him to the bench and free up Anderson for the final minutes.
“We knew going in that if we set hard screens, he would run over us,” Eldridge said. “I thought there were two or three early that we didn’t get called that they called late. If we get those calls early, maybe he’s out for a little bit and that changes the complexion.”
Maryville lost to Knoxville Catholic in the District 4-AAA semifinals and finished third in the tournament.
That loss set it up for a meeting with the most talented team in East Tennessee to keep its season alive, providing an example for the returning players of what one poor performance in the postseason can lead to.
“Throughout the year, most people thought that us and Bearden were the two best teams around,” Eldridge said. “That’s why they call it a tournament sport … and anytime you lose one early in the district, it’s going to put you in a bad situation.”
That bad situation dashed Maryville’s hopes of its first state tournament berth since the 2014-15 season and, for the moment, put a damper on all it accomplished throughout the season.
“As they look back, they’ll see what they accomplished,” Eldridge said. “Looking at it now, it was a disappointment because we didn’t get to where we wanted to get, which was the state tournament. But on the other side, it’s not all about winning. It’s about these guys going on a very team-oriented journey together, and I hope that makes them better young men.”