Despite playing on a blue floor nicknamed “Lego-Land,” the Middle Tennessee Heat weren’t playing around when the Warren County Pioneers visited on Tuesday night.
The home-schooled team based out of Hermitage scored six points in the final minute to upset the Pioneers 44-41.
Warren County (12-8) had won five straight games going into Tuesday and had defeated the Heat earlier in the season 58-51 at Charlie Dalton Gym.
After passing road tests in back-to-back games at Cannon County and Coffee County last week, Pioneer coach Malcolm Montgomery thought his team suffered a setback on Tuesday.
“We’ve had growing pains in trying to become a championship team,” said Montgomery. “We’ve got to take care of things early in games and continue to learn and get better.”
The downfall for the Pioneers were turnovers as the team gave the ball over to the Heat 25 times, including two big turnovers in the final minute.
Warren County led 41-38 with a minute to go, but couldn’t get the stops down the stretch to extend its winning streak to six.
The Pioneers put all their focus on August Schaetz, who had scored 27 points, in the final minute. Warren County forced other Heat players to step up and they did.
The Pioneers forced a missed shot from the Heat, but in the scramble for the rebound Warren County was called for a foul and the Heat got two shots from the free-throw line.
Both freebies went in, cutting the Pioneer lead to 41-40. On the ensuing possession, Warren County had a costly turnover which gave the Heat an easy layup and the lead.
Trailing by one, the Pioneers looked like they were going to hold for the final shot, but another turnover led to a run-out layup for the Heat with 3 seconds to go.
The clock was stopped on a whistle by the referee, leaving Warren County with one last chance to try a desperation heave.
The Pioneers were unable to get a shot off as the ball was passed to halfcourt but the Heat closed in and shut down a last-shot opportunity.
Warren County was never able to gain any separation from the Heat on Tuesday. The game was tied at 14 after the first quarter as Tucker Smith scored five points, including a three-point play early in the game.
The Pioneers were able to take a 23-22 lead into halftime as Smith scored four more points in the second quarter and Hunter Daniel drilled a 3-pointer.
Both teams tightened up the defense in the third quarter as only seven points were scored. Jacob Reagan had the only points for the Pioneers as he connected on a layup while being fouled and sank the subsequent free throw.
The game entered the fourth quarter tied at 26, but Smith and Daniel powered the Pioneers into the lead.
Smith started the fourth with a three-point play and finished the quarter with nine points.
Daniel sank two 3-pointers as the Pioneers built a three-point lead with a minute to go, but late turnovers doomed Warren County.
For the second time in three games, Smith led the Pioneers in scoring with 18 points. In the last five games, Smith is averaging 13 points per game. Daniel was the only other Pioneer in double figures with 11 points.
Warren County hopes to erase the memory of the ugly loss tonight when the team plays host to White County in District 6-AAA action.
The Pioneers enter tonight’s contest 1-0 in district play while the Warriors will be making their district debut. Tip-off for tonight’s game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.