KNOXVILLE — With his team’s season on the line and his squad seemingly a bit lethargic, Webb School of Knoxville boys basketball head coach Ricky Norris took some tactical advice from his assistant coaches.
Norris made a switch that was key toward earning the Spartans a spot in this week’s TSSAA Division II-A State Basketball Tournament in Nashville.
He switched to a zone defense in the second half of Webb’s 51-38 victory over Harding Academy in a state quarterfinal in Lee Athletic Center.
“Our assistant coaches wanted to switch to a zone, and when we did that, it changed the game,” Norris said after the Spartans (28-5) advanced to the state tournament for the first time in two years. “That was a great call by them.”
Harding, which finishes the 2017-18 season with a 20-12 record, held a slim upper hand at halftime. The Lions, who will miss the state semifinals for the first time in four years, held a 22-21 lead at halftime.
Lions center Luke Howard gave the Spartans fits in the first half, when he scored 13 of his team-high 21 points. He would score the first two field goals of the third quarter to give Harding a 26-21 lead before the Spartans seized control.
After that, Howard was scarcely heard from again. He was 4-for-7 from the free throw line in the final frame.
“Coach Norris and his kids do a great job and when he switched to the zone, it rattled us,” Harding head coach Kevin Starks said. “We started settling for outside shots. We didn’t work the ball inside the way we did in the first half.
“We could’ve been patient and still work the ball inside. But we weren’t. This is the first time in four years that we’ve missed the Final Four. ... But give Webb credit. Coach Norris and his staff and kids do a great job and they deserve to be going where they’re going.”
“We didn’t play our basketball in the first half,” Norris said. “We were passive and we were flat, but a lot of that has to go to Harding because of their length.”
But Webb’s defense surrendered just five field goals after halftime and opened the second half with a 15-6 run.
Webb closed the frame on a 7-0 run and opened a 36-28 advantage by quarter’s end.
Myles Rasnick finished 14 points and kept the Spartans within striking distance early. “The coaches did a really good job calming us down,” he said. “Our defense made them settle for stuff and Chase started making 3’s.
“We’re excited to be going back to state. “It’s the first time we’ve been since our sophomore year.”
Webb’s Charlie Wyrick scored 10.