Three-and-one-half months later, Mt. Juliet will travel to the Thompson Station school for a Monday-night sectional which will end the season for one of the teams.
The other team will punch a ticket for the state tournament.
“I think we played them two or three times this summer,” Mt. Juliet coach Troy Allen said of the Eagles. “We’re as familiar with them as we could possibly be and they’re familiar with us.”
Independence starts, though not necessarily ends, with point guard Grayson Murphy, who has over 2,000 points in his career and will be a Belmont Bruin next year. He dropped 26 on Mt. Juliet three nights before Thanksgiving.
“We know how good Grayson Murphy is,” Allen said. “He’s one of the best players in the midstate. He’s not their only player. They have good players around him.
“He drives it, he makes threes. He’s a really good finisher and a really gifted passer. He sets up the whole thing for his team. He’s really hard to contain. They got a couple of guards who can shoot it and they have a big kid who didn’t play against us the first time; he was still in football.”
The teams have as identical records as one can have when one has played one more game than the other. Mt. Juliet is 23-10 while Independence is 22-10. But while the Eagles are District 6-AAA champions, the Bears had their first Region 5 title slip out of their hands on a game-ending dunk by Northeast in a two-point loss Thursday night, a loss Allen was hoping would be worked out of their system by today.
“We’re hurting right now,” Allen said from Lebanon’s darkened auxiliary gym minutes following the devastating defeat. “Those kids, they’re hurting. The deal is now is how can I get them over what just happened because it’s a tough way to end the game.
“If we don’t get over this in the next couple of days, hopefully by (Friday) by the end of the day, then we don’t have a chance. But if we get over ourselves like we have all year, this team has a lot of character. We lost six games in a row and we’ve come back to where we are now, one of 16 teams left. We’ve just got to get over it and move on. It’s going to be rough, but we can do it.”