The White County boys basketball team might not pass an initial eye test, but that’s just about the only exam it hasn’t aced en route to a 26-0 regular season.
And when it comes to perimeter shooting, the undersized squad is at the top of the class.
The Warriors have already set one Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association record, knocking down 31 3-pointers in a 107-75 win over Rhea County of Feb. 8, and another is sure to fall during this week’s District 6-AAA tournament at Cookeville High School.
White County, which received a first-round tourney bye, will play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against No.4 Warren County.
“They’ve been telling us all year that if you live by the 3 you’ll die by the 3, but we haven’t yet,” 12th-year coach Eric Mitchell said. “I’m glad I don’t have to play us.”
Lebanon coach Jim McDowell can attest to that.
“They play a different style than anybody else you play,” said McDowell, whose 21-6 Blue Devils have suffered a pair of losses to White County by a combined 13 points. “A lot of things you normally do defensively as far as helping on penetration and giving up a perimeter shot, you kind of have to do the opposite with them. It’s very hard for your kids.”
White County, ranked second in Class AAA behind fellow unbeaten Blackman, is averaging making 13 3-pointers per contest, giving them a state-leading 344 on the season — just two shy of breaking the TSSAA single-season record.
That number was on just about everyone’s mind in the waning moments of Monday’s regular-season finale against visiting Lebanon. The players were no exception, and they didn’t really have much of a choice.
A raucous White County student section was responsible for that.
“Our student section is great, but having all those 3s lined up got in our heads,” Mitchell said.
Just as the Warriors entered the game needing 14 3-pointers to eclipse the state record of 345, the students began the game with 14 sheets of paper with the number 3 printed on them hanging along the railing.
With each White County trey, another “3” came down.
“I think at the end, that’s when we were saying, ‘Let’s break it here with a minute left,’ and that was kind of stupid,” said White County senior and District 6-AAA Player of the Year Cade Crosland, who had a team-high 28 points in the 82-71 victory. “I know I pulled up and air-balled one when I probably just should have dribbled it out and won the game.
“I don’t know something in me wanted to break (the record) I guess.”
While several familiar faces make up this year’s team, one key contributor from last season’s 30-4, Class AAA quarterfinalist — 2015 All-Midstate first-team selection Kordell Henderson — graduated.
In addition to the absence of the 6-foot-7 Henderson, who averaged a team-leading 23 points, 6-foot-3 posts Allen Newport and Zack Stephenson also moved on, forcing the Warriors to utilize a smaller, quicker lineup in 2015-16.
“Last year we were very big,” Mitchell said. “We went 6-3, 6-3, and 6-7 up front, then you had Cade and Jacob (Fresh). We’re not as strong this year, but we’re faster and shoot more 3s.”
Crosland, the school’s all-time leading 3-point shooter, and Fresh have benefited from the change, and so have fellow starters Pierce Whited, Mitchell Lamb and Cole Crosland.
“Having the five guards really helps us on offense,” Cade Crosland said. “Defensively it’s a struggle when we get that big 6-8 guy in the post, but that’s basketball.”
Added Mitchell, “Basically we’re going to score and we get just enough deflections from Cade and Fresh and Lamb on our defense. Their hands are everywhere.”
White County’s regular-season run was nothing short of remarkable, but if that old cliche Mitchell referred to is true, the bottom is sure to eventually drop out on White County, right?
Not according to Cade Crosland.
“I guess it’s a more accurate saying if you have two or three shooters,” he said. “We have six. Everyone that comes in the game can shoot. It’s a lot easier to live by the 3 when you have six shooters and the other team really has to respect everyone at the 3-point line. They have to come out. If they don’t come out we’re driving by you for a layup.
“That’s the way we’re playing it and it has worked.”
Player PPG FG% 3P% 3PM
Cade Crosland, Sr. 15.0 50.4 40.1 71
Jacob Fresh, Sr. 16.0 48.0 38.8 73
Pierce Whited, Jr. 20.0 41.9 38.4 120
Mitchell Lamb, Sr. 11.8 52.2 37.3 40
Jared Carter, Jr. 5.7 27
Cole Crosland, Jr, 5.4 51.1 27.6 10