The Blue Raiders finally found the energy head coach Jason McCowan had been looking for, but by then it was too late and Cleveland settled for fourth place with a 75-69 loss to Ooltewah in the District 5-AAA basketball tournament.
The loss sets the Blue Raiders up for a road game at the home of 6-AAA champion Cumberland County Saturday in a win or go home situation.
“I felt like our energy was flat when we came out. We had a little adversity with a couple of kids getting injured. We had quite a bit of adversity coupled with Ooltewah shooting really well. They seemed to be very engaged and playing pretty hard. We got in a hole and were able to dig ourselves out of the hole, but it was just a little too late,” said Cleveland coach Jason McCowan.
“Anytime you play in a game that is not a championship game, the one thing you want to see is how much energy your kids are going to give. Sometimes they have a little trouble understanding you are still working on positioning and trying to get the highest seed available in the region.”
The usually solid 3-point shooting Blue Raiders had trouble all night finding the range from behind the arc. Cleveland hit only three times from outside. The Owls scored 27 points with 3s.
“I didn’t think we shot it well from the 3. That is something we normally do and when we don’t do that it kinds of gets us searching where we are going to get some offense,” said McCowan.
“Ooltewah shot the ball well pretty much all night. They went through one spurt that kind of let us back in the game where they didn’t shoot too well. Then late, they made some shots and we missed a couple of easy ones right around the rim.”
Cleveland was only 3-of-15 from 3-point stripe. The Owls lifted in 11-of-25.
C.J. Bryant and Kendrick Thompson both had big nights for the Raiders, scoring 21 and 18 points in the loss.
“Dustin (Little) and Jahmal (Johnson) played their guts out and really kept us in the game — kept us in the game and gave us a big lift. We also had some young kids step in and play pretty well. It was just a tough hole to dig out of.”
Johnson ended the night with 12 points.
The Raiders also got strong play off the bench from Isaiah Beaty, who cut the Ooltewah lead to single digits on a driving layup with 5:16 left in the game.
“No question he gave us a solid game off the bench tonight. He did the little things for us. He blocked some shots, boxed out really well and was around the rim,” McCowan said of the lanky sophomore. “I felt like he, Dustin and Mason (Brown) all did a good job of playing their role and helping us out. We had a really short bench tonight with some injuries. They did a good job of stepping in there and giving us confidence for the next game.”
Thompson ended the 10-0 run by the Raiders with a 2-pointer that cut the Ooltewah lead to six points. After falling back down by 11, Cleveland came back to make it a 72-69 game on a 3 by Bryant with 2:04 left to play.
From there a Cleveland offensive foul and a pair of missed 3’s with time running out gave the win to the Owls.
“We called a timeout late and reminded the guys it was a one possession game. If we could get a stop and get a good shot, we might could have changed the outcome. I just felt like we rushed it. Instead of getting something quality we were still in that panic mode. Instead of taking a good shot we kind of forced it,” McCowan said of the final moments.
“We’ve just got to regroup, hope that we can catch some fire and shoot better Saturday.”
OWLS 75, BLUE RAIDERS 69
Ooltewah 21 20 17 17 — 75
Cleveland 14 18 14 23 — 69
Ooltewah (75) — Daaron Matson 23, Jacqueeze Robinson 10, Jackson 9, Pressley 7, Bass 5, Ware 3, Boyd.
Cleveland (69) — C.J. Bryant 21, Kendrick Thompson 18, Jahmal Johnson 12, Beaty 6, Little 6, Ware 2, Scott 2, Brown 2, Bunion.
3-point goals: Ooltewah 9 (Matson 5, Pressley 2, Jackson, Bass; Cleveland 3 (Thompson 2, Bryant).
Free throws: Ooltewah 16-28; Cleveland 10-19.
Records: Ooltewah 17-6, 10-3 District 5-AAA; Cleveland 18-11, 10-3).