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By GOOSE LINDSAY
The third time was the charm Wednesday night for the Harriman Blue Devils.
After dropping a pair of close games to the Tellico Plains in the regular season, the Blue Devils got their revenge with a 57-43 victory over the Bears in the District 3-A title game at Rockwood.
"I think this is as hard as we've played all year," Harriman head coach Jeff King said following the game. "In the two games before they had been killing us on the boards. Top to bottom they're the biggest team we've played, but tonight we did a much better job rebounding the basketball and that was big for us."
Harriman won the battle of the boards Wednesday, 36-26.
Another key to Wednesday's victory was limiting the touches of Tellico Plains talented post player Gage Ingram. In the Bears 59-50 victory over Midway in the tournament's semifinals, Ingram scored 21 points, but against a packed-in Harriman 1-3-1 zone, Ingram had just six points and five rebounds.
"We made a little change in our defensive philosophy this time," King said. "We added a 1-3-1 zone and wanted to pack it in. We wanted to stay on Ingram and make them beat us from the outside."
In the early going it didn't seem like Harriman was playing any defense at all, however, as Tellico raced out to a 13-4 lead with 2:29 left in the opening period.
Harriman, however, calmed down and ended the period with seven straight points to pull within 13-11 at the end of the opening stanza.
The second period opened with Tellico Plains' Donovan McKenzie burying a triple to make the score 16-11, but that's when the Blue Devils went to work.
Sparked by back-to-back baskets from tournament MVP Dimitrique Inman, Harriman went on a 10-1 run to take a 21-17 lead. Tellico Plains ended the run with a basket from Ingram then the Bears tried a zone defense of their own, but that move didn't work as Darius Gallaher buried back-to-back three-pointers to give the Blue Devils a 27-19 lead with 2:05 left in the first half.
"We're not the same Harriman team as in the past," King said. "Used to teams would pack in a zone against us, but now we've got kids that shoot the ball well from outside and we're confident against the zone. We've worked a lot on our outside shooting."
Harriman took a 28-21 lead into the locker room at halftime and the Devils opened the second half with a three-pointer that made the score 31-21.
Tellico Plains answered with a pair of three-pointers from Preston Russell to pull within 33-27 with 2:40 left in the third quarter. The Bears even had a chance to cut two more points off the lead when they missed a pair of free throws with 2:19 left in the period.
Harriman broke the drought with a basket fro Shaquille Love with 2:06 to play in the quarter, but the turning points of the game might have come 27 seconds later when a Tellico Plains player was hit with a technical foul.
Harriman hit both technical free throws then Inman ended the period with back-to-back baskets to give the Devils a 41-27 lead with eight minutes left to play.
Harriman capped what would be a 12-0 run with a basket from Davis at the five-minute mark of the final period to make the score 45-27.
The Bears would get no closer than 11 points after that as Harriman celebrated their first district title since 2004.
Inman led Harriman on the night with 16 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals while Gallaher added 14 points and three steals.
Russell led Tellico Plains with three three-pointers and 14 points while McKenzie added 10 points and five rebounds.
With the victory, Harriman will host Sunbright Saturday in the first round of the Region 2-A Tournament. Sunbright enters the game as the No. 4 seed from the District 4-A Tournament, but the Tigers did win the District 4-A regular season title.
"Sunbright's not a number four seed," King said. "Up until two weeks ago they were the best team in their league and they've won some big games on the road already this year.
"We're going to enjoy tonight, but come five o'clock tomorrow (Thursday) we're going to have to forget about this game and get ready for a good Sunbright team on Saturday."
Harriman (57) Inman 16, Steinmetz 3, Gallaher 14, Davis 9, Howard 2, Sawyer 6, Love 6, Mayton 1.