Cyclones go down fighting vs. A-E

  Coach Tony Hardin watched his youthful Elizabethton Cyclones stage a valiant fourth-quarter comeback bid against one of the state's most storied programs, cutting a 20-point deficit to just five points in a six-minute span, only to come up short against Knoxville Austin-East by a final score of 65-57 in the opening game of the Landair Transport Tipoff Classic Monday afternoon at Greeneville's Hal Henard Gymnasium.
  The Roadrunners of Coach Charlie Mitchell opened the game in their patented 2-2-1 fullcourt press, immediately causing problems for the inexperienced Cyclones that led to an early 4-0 lead, which they stretched to 14-5 with two minutes left in the opening period.
  'Betsy guard Derrick Nave, in a performance reminiscent of his opening quarter against Chuckey-Doak Saturday night, scored his team's first seven points with a three-pointer, a layup following a steal at midcourt, and a jumper in traffic in the paint that made the score 14-7, A-E, with 1:34 left in the period.
  Senior Troop Harris hit a nice running jumper a minute later to close out the first quarter scoring, with the Cyclones trailing 16-9.
  Austin-East used a balanced attack in the second quarter, getting scoring from six different players in the period, to up the margin at halftime to 33-17. 6-3 sophomore Valentin Zaharie's two NBA-range threes, including one at the buzzer, led the Roadrunner attack.
  Elizabethton's early-season free throw woes continued, as the Cyclones failed to convert on four chances at the line in the first half, making them zero for seven from the stripe on the season to that point.
  Charles Peters, Elizabethton's tough-as-nails 6-1 junior post, though quiet in his brief first-half return to the hardwood after an outstanding season on the gridiron, announced loud and clear that he was back and ready to play some roundball in the second half.
  Peters, bringing his physical brand of defense from the football field to the basketball court, took two charges in a 12-second span, then bulled his way to a layup and his first points of the season at the 1:58 mark of the third period. That made the score 44-27, with Austin-East on top, but a subtle shift in the game's momentum and the Cyclone mindset had begun.
  "Charles just makes us so much better," said Coach Hardin. "Even if he never scored, with his aggressive play and calming manner, he just makes us a better ballclub...Charles is just a born leader."
  The score stood at 50-33 heading into the last quarter when Peter's influence on his teammates became apparent.
  Senior guard Harris and 6-0 junior Ben Hardin turned the defensive tables on Austin-East with pressure of their own, forcing several Roadrunner turnovers near midcourt that the Cyclones began to convert.
  The boys from 'Betsy began to heat up from the outside, as Harris, Hardin, and Nave connected on clutch buckets, and the lid finally fell off from the free-throw line, as the Cyclones connected on eight of 10 from the stripe for the period, with Peters hitting on five of six chances after missing the front end of two one-plus opportunities in the first half.
  Down 53-33 with six minutes left, the hustling Cyclones outscored the Roadrunners 22-9 to cut the deficit to 62-57 with 21 ticks left on the clock, but that wasn't enough time to complete the comeback bid. Desperation fouls turned into three more points from the foul line for Austin-East before the game ended in victory for the team from Knoxville, 65-57.
  "Elizabethton played hard, "said veteran coach Mitchell, who has notched 320 wins in his first 12 seasons as the Austin-East head man. "I was trying to play some younger kids, trying to get them some experience, but give Elizabethton credit. Their halfcourt pressure bothered our young guards, but you know, a win is a win."
  The Roadrunners were led in the scoring column by returning starter Stephen Kite with 14 points and Daran Taylor, who tossed in 13.
  Derrick Nave once again led the Cyclones in scoring, knocking down four three-pointers on his way to a game-high 23, the second straight game he has tallied that many.
  "Derrick has the potential to be very good," observed Hardin. "He's still young mentally, still needs some experience, but he knocked down some big shots for us and gave us a chance to get back into the game."
  Peters aided the cause with nine points, and Harris added eight, including two three-pointers.
  Hardin praised his opponents after the game, saying: "They're a good program. Austin-East has been to the state tournament something like eight out of the last 10 years, and I think that intimidated us a little bit early in the game."
  Turning his observations to his own cagers, Hardin said: "In the second half we showed a lot of heart...the kids made a good comeback. We look forward to January. We've got a gauntlet here early, and if we stay team-oriented and work hard in practice, I believe we can be a surprise team by the end of the year."
  Elizabethton returns to action at Hal Henard this Friday at 10 a.m. versus the loser of tomorrow night's Cleveland-Powell game, as the Cyclones (0-2) look to break in to the win column.