Barely three hours after watching their former coach Jason Tigert guide the Franklin Rebels into the District 11-AAA finals, the Dickson County Cougars did their part to join them.
Senior post Winn Gramling engineered a second half rally to help the Cougars pull off a minor upset with a 47-38 win over the Summit Spartans in their 11-AAA semifinal game Saturday evening at Independence High School.
Gramling went off for 10 of his game-and career-high 22 points in a pivotal third quarter which saw Dickson Co. pull ahead and never relinquish its lead thanks to a strong finish.
“One of the last things I told the boys was what a great fourth quarter,” Dickson Co. first-year head coach Hal Murrell told Home Page. “We were really stagnant in the first half. We play better when we can get down court and attack, which led to open shots.”
It didn’t begin that way, as both teams struggled to find their offensive flow. Dickson Co. jumped out to a 2-0 lead, which lasted for all of a possession as Summit led throughout the balance of the first half.
Senior point guard Tre Carlton (12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals) and sophomore post Destin Wade (team high 16 points and 8 rebounds) did most of the heavy lifting in a low-scoring affair through the first 16 minutes.
Summit led 9-4 after one, with both teams finding the basket with a bit more frequency down the stretch to end the second quarter.
The Cougars came racing out the gate to start the second half, rattling off an 11-2 run including nine straight points—five from Gramling—to go ahead 29-25 early in the third quarter.
Carlton nailed a mid-range jumper to stop the bleeding, only for Gramling to knock down two free throws and a subsequent 3-pointer to give Dickson Co. a 34-27 lead with eight minutes to go.
“My teammates were just hitting me while I was open, and I was able to knock them down,” Gramling told Home Page.
Aiding the cause for the 6’4” Gramling was a limited low-post presence to contain him. Summit’s twin towers of Destin and Keaten Wade are normally game for the task on any given game night, only for Keaten (2 points, 3 rebounds, fouled out) to spend most of the game in foul trouble.
“Most of the problems incurred tonight were on us,” admitted Summit head coach Jim Fey, who took over the program this season after guiding East Nashville Magnet to the state tournament last year. “Defensive breakdowns, not getting to the rim and finishing—we let a lot of layups go, and didn’t finish. We didn’t hit some free throws (Summit shot just 4-7) and just didn’t finish the job.
“We just shut down the second half. Dickson Co. did a good job letting us shut down and did a good job of capitalizing. We had one of our best—if not our best player—Keaten Wade in foul trouble most of the game. It’s just one of those things that’s hard to overcome.”
Dickson Co. were able to limit Summit’s fourth quarter comeback effort to simply holding pace. Even with the Cougars going the final 4:13 without a basket, preservation came at the charity stripe as they made 9 of 12 free throws in the final eight minutes.
It proved to be a big difference in an otherwise clean game, as both team combined for just 16 turnovers overall.
Putting the ball in the basket, however, was another matter altogether.
“We just got to get a lot tougher,” Fey insisted. “Too many good looks just didn’t go down, and now we’re playing at 6:00pm on Tuesday (in the third place game) rather than the 7:30 finals.
"It was a goal of ours to win the district, but if we can win the Regional title as the number-three seed, we’ll take it.”
Summit will seek to accomplish that goal in Tuesday’s consolation game versus the top-seeded Brentwood Bruins, who suffered an upset loss to Franklin earlier in the day.
The pair of semifinal upsets pits familiar faces in the district final matchup.
“It’s bittersweet for these boys,” notes Murrell. “We got an opportunity on Tuesday to play against their old coach who left to go to Franklin. The only negative is that he knows them better than anybody, having coached them for three years.”
The two teams split the regular season series, having suffered a 56-51 loss on Feb. 14. Of course, their regular season finale saw the Cougars suffer a 10-point defeat to a team they just conquered four days later. That same Cougars team is loaded with talented players familiar with their upcoming rival’s coaching schemes.
“It would really be a storybook ending.” Gramling said of the thought of bumping off the Cougars’ old coach to advance as the number-one seed in Region 6-AAA play. “We really want to win the game a lot, that would mean a lot, to beat our former coach.”