SODDY-DAISY — Cleveland basketball coaches Tony Williams and Jason McCowan were both disappointed in the way their teams played in the District 5-AAA semifinals Saturday, but for totally different reasons.
Even though the fifth-ranked Blue Raiders sent McMinn County to the tournament consolation game against Bradley Central, McCowan felt his team left everything in Raider Arena and showed no energy or emotion in one of the biggest games of the season.
"We've got to look inside, play a lot better and get off the bus and play with a whole lot more energy," he said after the 71-57 win over the Cherokees on Soddy-Daisy High School's floor.
Cleveland (24-4) will go against East Hamilton (23-7) for the district championship Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. McMinn County (14-18) will tangle with Bradley Central (17-10) for third place in Tuesday's opener at 6 p.m.
Williams' Lady Raiders (15-14) are also headed to the consolation game, tonight at 6, and will face McMinn County (21-10) in a battle for third place after a 57-39 loss to East Hamilton in a semifinals matchup.
The Lady Hurricanes (20-11) will square off against top-seeded and fourth-ranked Bradley central (26-3) for the girls' championship this evening at 7:30.
McCowan pointed to Kley McGowan as the catalyst that held the team together in the early going Saturday evening.
The sophomore guard lifted in a 3-pointer from the left corner and added four more first-quarter points on his way to a 19-point night. McGowan dialed in from 15 feet for six more in the second quarter, helping the Blue Raiders push to a 41-28 halftime lead.
"We wouldn't have a lead in the first half it it weren't for Kley McGowan. He played really well. He played within himself," praised McCowan.
The Raiders applied full-court pressure early on the Cherokees in a defensive strategy that paid off well enough to run the lead to double-digits. From there, McCowan backed off, deciding to try and simply maintain a solid lead.
"As a team we can pressure, but we were kind of getting spread out a little too far. So we decided to try and get some stops defensively. Once we got a 10-point lead we just wanted to hold that and continue to try to extend it by making them come out and guard us," he explained. "I thought we did a pretty good job of that, but we were getting out of position a little bit full court, so we backed it off a little bit."
The Raiders also got solid efforts on the offensive end from sophomore Grant Hurst, who hit three times from behind the arc and led Cleveland with 23 points. Junior guard JaCobi Wood played solid basketball ending with 21 points and also had three treys.
Still, McCowan said the Raiders were lacking fire and desire the entire night — a problem that will need to be taken care of before Tuesday's championship matchup — even though Cleveland headed into halftime with a comfortable 41-28 lead.
"I felt like Thursday was the worst practice we've had all year, low energy. I don't know why. We could blame it on a lot of things, but we've got to come out with better energy. If we play that way Tuesday night, it will be a really long night," warned McCowan.
"We had some guys who were out of character. Every season is seems like we have two great games and two duds, and we don't know when they are coming. I hope that's the last dud we have. We've got to get better."
The Blue Raiders' lack of motivation showed through in the third quarter as the Tribe continued to harass Cleveland offensively, cutting a 15-point lead to 11 at the end of the third quarter. McGowan's two 3s and another from Hurst early in the period helped the Raiders maintain the lead throughput the otherwise lackluster quarter.
McMinn closed the gap to 58-52 with just over two minutes left in the game.
Hurst put Cleveland out front 63-52 with a basket "and 1" with 1:30 left, forcing McMinn to send the Raiders to the free-throw line the rest of the way. After missing the front end of two 1-and-1s, the Raiders canned eight in a row to put a lid on the night.
McCowan has one more day to work on team energy and concentration before going against an East Hamilton squad that was solid for 32 minutes against Bradley Central in Saturday's other semifinal game.
"If I had to describe East Hamilton's performance against Bradley, I would say really poised throughout the night. We've got to fix ourselves because it's going to be really good teams from here on out," he said. "Hopefully, we will be excited for the challenge because I didn't see any excitement from the majority of our team tonight. We've got to get back to work and be ready for Tuesday."
LADY 'CANES 57
LADY RAIDERS 39
The talent differential between the Cleveland and East Hamilton girls was evident early in Saturday's semifinals game. The Lady Hurricanes pushed the Lady Raiders for four quarters, dominating both ends of the court.
"You've got to give them all the credit, they were just better than us tonight. They are probably a better team than we are honestly. They have considerably more talent than we do. We just did not make plays and did not execute anything on the offensive end," said a disappointed Lady Raider coach Tony Williams after the 57-39 loss.
Senior Madison Dasher did her part in the loss, firing up in the final eight minutes to score 14 points. Dasher was 2-for-2 behind the 3-point line in the first half and added two more in her fourth-quarter outburst.
"Offensively, we were abysmal outside of Dasher. Joy (Douglass) did some things for us, but nobody else scored more than two or three points," said Williams. "They (EH) had three girls in double figures. It's tough. It is what it is. We tried to do everything we could to stop Madison (Hayes). She had 16 tonight. (Elizah) Laboo probably had 170,000 rebounds, it seemed like. Every one that came off, she got it."
The Lady 'Canes turned an 11-9 first-quarter lead into a 26-16 advantage at halftime. East Hamilton held Cleveland to only four third-quarter points while building a 39-20 lead.
Dasher's run in the final eight minutes was virtually the only offensive output for the Lady Raiders, who managed only five more points while East Hamilton piled in 18 to close out the 57-39 victory.
Dasher finished with 20 points, while Douglass netted eight. No other Lady Raider had more than three points.
Tonight's consolation game will mark the third time Cleveland and McMinn County will face off this season. The Lady Raiders won the first game, but lost to the Lady Cherokees in the second meeting.
"I feel like us and McMinn are probably a coin toss every time we play. All of our games are typically within single digits. They beat us a couple of weeks ago after we let them off the mat," said Williams. "Hopefully, we can come out and put together something that looks life offense Monday. That's a big game for us. We are going to be traveling either way, which is disappointing."
District 5-AAA Semifinals
Saturday at Soddy-Daisy
East Hamilton 11 15 13 18 — 57
Cleveland 8 8 4 19 — 39
East Hamilton (57) — Madison Hayes 16, Elizah Laboo 14, Dezah Lacey 13, McKenna Hayes 7, Petit 3, Patton 2, Evans 2, Copeland, Johnson.
Cleveland (39) — Madison Dasher 20, Joy Douglass 8, Rominger 3, Goodman 2, Person 2, Droke 2, Jackson, Williams, Walker, Anderson.
3-point goals: East Hamilton 3 (Hayes 2, Petit); Cleveland 4 (Dasher 4).
Free throws: East Hamilton 10-of-16; Cleveland 9-of-14.
Records: East Hamilton 20-11; Cleveland 15-14.
McMinn County 11 17 14 15 — 57
Cleveland 18 23 12 18 — 71
McMinn County (57) — Tyler Peel 18, Jacob Elkins 18, Wilson 8, Daniel 2, Sharp 2, James 2.
Cleveland (71) — Grant Hurst 23, JaCobi Woods 21, Kley McGowan 19, Johnson 4, Williams 4, Dale, Howard, Colbaugh, Armstrong.
3-point goals: McMinn County 3 (Elkins); Cleveland 3 (McGowan 4, Wood 3).
Free throws: McMinn County 1-of-3; Cleveland 13-of-18.
Records: McMinn County 14-18; Cleveland 24-4.