There was plenty to be excited about Saturday for the Lenoir
City Middle School boys basketball team.
The Panthers entered the game with the goal of going
10-0 in district play and eighth-grader Joe Pace needed 23 points to become the first player on
record to score 1,000 points in his career at LCMS.
Lenoir City jumped out to a huge early
lead, up 21-8 at the end of the first, with Pace leading the way. The eighth-grader had 16 points
heading into the third quarter, and with four points scored already he netted a three to hit the
"It means a lot," Pace said. "All my hard work paid off and it's just a big
accomplishment for me and for my teammates. I really couldn't have done it without their help. They
pass me the ball and they're like brothers to me."
Pace finished with 398 points in the
regular season, averaging 16.9 per game.
"He's very talented," head coach Travis Gaskins
said. "He's a once-in-a-lifetime type of player for a coach. He's got all the intangibles. He's got
the athletic ability, the mental toughness, he's a team player, he's a leader on and off the court.
He's just one of those once-in-a-lifetime type of guys if you have to characterize
While scoring 23 points is above Pace's season average, Gaskins said he never had a
doubt Pace would hit the mark.
"When he wants to he can take over a game," he said. "He could
have scored 30 Saturday if he wanted to."
The boys went on to win the game 55-27, improving
to 10-0 in the district and 20-4 overall, the team’s best finish since going 30-0 in the 1987-1988
season. Gaskins said he feels the team is a special one.
"We've got four eighth-graders who
have played since sixth grade," Gaskins said. "They've had a lot of basketball and their
leadership on the floor, they basically just know what we need to do and they just go out and do
In addition to Pace, the team starts eighth-graders Clay Campbell, Jacob Tufts and
Hayden Bingham, all of whom play a major role in the team’s success. Tufts is the team's
second-leading scorer at 10.9 per game, Campbell is third at 10.5 and Bingham fourth at 6.6. In
addition to scoring, the four also average more than 15 steals per game
"Our offense is predicated on our defense," Gaskins said. "We are an 84-feet type
of team. We press, we get out and run, all of our starters are averaging about three to five
steals a game because we're so aggressive. Our average margin of victory this year is a little
over 20 points a game. We're definitely able to translate that defense into our
The team's defense is even more important moving forward as they set their sites
on a sectional championship. To do so they'll need to make it through their district tournament at
Oliver Springs, which began Tuesday night.
"Our style of play is so fast-paced it's tough
for teams to stay with us," Gaskins said. "In the sectionals, we'll have teams that will be just
as tough or maybe tougher than we've seen so far. Defense is one of those staples of our game that
we're always going to be in your face and aggressive, flying to the basketball and boxing out.
Hopefully that will take care of any deficiencies in size."
Pace said he feels as long as
the team plays to its potential and plays together the goal of a sectional championship is one
they can meet.
"I love these guys," he said. "We're a great group and we bond together very
well. If we play like we can I don't think really anybody can beat us."
Lenoir City played
Ft. Loudoun Middle School at Oliver Springs after the News-Herald presstime on Tuesday. Lenoir
City's girls won 41-3 Saturday. They played Tuesday night following the boys.