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Norman leads charge in Cougars' 69-65 victory over West

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By Dwane Wilder

In-between free throws Friday night, Zach Norman looked more like the U.S. Marine he plans to become rather than the high school basketball star he is right now.

Barking out last-minute orders, the 6-foot-4 senior forward directed his teammates to their proper positions during the fourth quarter of Campbell County’s first-round District 3-AAA Tournament game against fourth-seeded Knoxville West.

Norman’s leadership and courage under fire helped rally the fifth-seeded Cougars (17-10 overall) from an eight-point deficit to a 69-65 victory, their second upset in as many weeks over a league team.

“We just had to execute our plays and finish strong. I was just making sure everybody had their responsibilities covered,” said Norman, who led all scorers with 25 points and pulled down half a dozen rebounds.

“I wasn’t losing.”

He was especially not about to lose an elimination game.

Norman scored half his team’s 28 points during the fourth quarter to dig Campbell County out of a 49-41 hole.

Free throws proved to be the difference for the second consecutive game. The Cougars shot 70 percent from the line (21-of-30) including 12-of-14 in the fourth quarter.

Over the final eight minutes, there were five lead changes, the last when senior point guard Troy Arnold sank a pair of free throws with 19.5 seconds left to put Campbell County up 67-65.

The Rebels had a chance to tie it when Phillip Stanford went to the foul line with five seconds remaining.

However, Stanford missed the front end of a one-plus-one and Arnold was fouled after grabbing the rebound.

Arnold calmly walked to the other end of the court, where he made both free throws to put the game out of reach, despite the best attempts by West’s student section to distract him.

The victory put the Cougars in the district semifinals for the first time since 2001.

During the days between Campbell County’s 78-52 upset of regular season champion Knoxville Central on Feb. 12 and the tournament opener against West, Norman said players and coaches talked about “finishing the job”.

“We had been in the same position before where we lost games. Now we’re finding ways to win,” said Cougars’ coach Barry Jones.

“We got to the foul line and (West) didn’t. We played defense without fouling. Our kids played real smart.”

Senior guard Chris Poteet also scored in double figures for Campbell County. He finished with 15 points, followed by Lucas Nelson and Cody Malicoat with eight each, Arnold seven and Wagers six.

Norman and Poteet each made 4-of-5 free throws in the fourth quarter.

“It was all guts, because we didn’t have our “A” game,” said Jones.

“(West was) a tougher matchup (than Central). You have to guard everybody. They can play fast and they can play slow. They’re very well coached.”

Jerrell Davis and Devin Jackson each scored 14 points to lead the Rebels, while JaJuan Williams and Stanford had 12 apiece. West, which proved to be a better three-point shooting team than did Central, hit seven treys to Campbell County’s four.

Each team had the lead three times during a hectic first quarter, and the Rebels held a 21-20 advantage at the first break.

Chad Wagers, the Cougars’ freshman guard, drilled a three-pointer to force a 27-27 tie. West pulled ahead again to take a 34-31 edge to the locker room at intermission.

By the end of the third quarter, the Rebels had an eight-point cushion and looked as though they were beginning to pull away.

That’s when Norman, Poteet and the other Campbell County seniors went to war.

“We don’t win without senior leadership,” said Jones.

“Norman kept us in it. He finished through contact and got to the free throw line. Troy was huge. I know everybody will remember his free throws at the end of the game, but when we went to our press, he got three or four steals.

“And Poteet was a big reason we won the game. Even though he missed some shots, he did everything else he could do (six rebounds, four steals, four assists) to help the team.”

Norman, who missed most of the previous two seasons, was thankful for the opportunity to play another day and took none of the credit for being able to do so.

“I was able to use the ability that God gave me and the blessings bestowed on me to help my team and my county,” said the stoic senior as he sauntered out the gym, enjoying each moment of his long and winding road to victory.