SODDY-DAISY — For the first 16 minutes of Tuesday's District 5-AAA Championship Game, the fifth-ranked Blue Raiders were no shows, and it looked as though they would be packing their bags for a …
But like a superhero who arrives in the nick of time, Cleveland battled back to erase a double-digit deficit, send the game to overtime and find their own superheroes in the form of JaCobi Wood, Isaiah Johnson and Grant Hurst who provided back-to-back-to-back buzzer beaters to give the Raiders their third straight district title with a 56-54 win heart stopper over top-seeded East Hamilton.
"They really hung in there and to be honest, I didn't really breathe or have any fun until the final shot. We dug ourselves such a big hole (in the first half)," said Blue Raider coach Jason McCowan.
The 2018-19 Blue Raiders are the first team to three-peat as district champions since the 1996, '97 and '98 teams that featured Cleveland Hall of Famer Vincent Yarborough.
Cleveland (25-4) will host District 6 fourth-seed Rhea County (9-21) in the first round of the Region 3 tournament Saturday at 7 p.m. in Raider Arena. With the crown in hand, Cleveland also earns the right to host the Region 3 semifinals Tuesday and championship game Feb. 28.
The Hurricanes (23-8), who captured the regular season championship before falling in the district final, will host Cookeville (23-9) Saturday.
McCowan said after Saturday's district semifinal win over McMinn County his team lacked emotion and hustle. The same held true for the first two quarters against the Hurricanes last night.
The Blue Raiders fell behind early and East Hamilton piled on the points, building a 22-7 lead as shot after shot by Cleveland missed the mark. Wood finally put the Raiders in double digits with a 3-pointer midway through the second quarter and from there Cleveland slowly began to come to life, cutting the Hurricane's lead to 28-22 at halftime.
Wood finished the game with 21 points to lead the Raiders in scoring. Johnson came through with 16, none bigger than his score to send the game to overtime. Grant Hurst, who etched his name in Cleveland basketball history, booked 14.
"There was a lot of pressure. I felt like we were pretty wild and I kept asking our guys if we could play with a lead – could we get the lead? The first half we just wanted to get it (the deficit) under double digits. It was only six at halftime," recalled McCowan.
A calmer, more in control group of Raiders took the floor in the third quarter and used full-court pressure and a more settled offense to close to within three points, 37-34 headed into the fourth.
Hurst opened the fourth with his second 3-pointer of the night to tie the game at 37-37. East Hamilton came back to push ahead 47-43 with 2:33 left in regulation and led 49-47 with just over six second on the clock after hitting the front end of a two-shot foul. Johnson grabbed the rebound on the missed second shot and raced the length of the court past Hurricane defenders to score a easy layup as the buzzer sounded to extend the game.
"I still felt like we were playing bad, but we cut it to three. Then we got it to overtime," said McCowan.
Overtime saw the Hurricanes take a quick 53-49 lead. Second later Wood was called for his fifth foul and East Hamilton made it a 55-51 game with 2:03 left to play. Johnson stepped up with huge 3 from the top of the key to knot the score with 1:31 left on the clock. A turnover gave the ball to the Raiders, who set up to work for a final shot. Hurst's 3-point shot from the corner bounded off the rim but fellow sophomore teammate Kley McGowan got the rebound, put up another shot that missed, but as a Hurricane player came down with that rebound, Hurst had hustled in to snatch the ball away and put in an acrobatic underhanded layup for the stunning victory, sending the Cleveland crowd into a frenzy as the buzzer signaled zeros on the clock.
McCowan praised the effort and team play at the end for the final results.
"Kley (McGowan) had a put back, they (EH) got the rebound and I saw Grant throw it in. I immediately looked at the referee (to see if it the basket went in before time ran out), and he said good. We don't have monitors and there is no replay, so let's have fun and celebrate," said McCowan, who was eager to do just that with his team.
"Kley keeps it alive and Grant digs it out and makes the play. It's a special group. Hopefully, we can keep it going because they are a lot of fun to be around. I'll take this two-point win and we'll get ready for Saturday."
All-District Team: JaCobi Wood, Cleveland; Isaiah Johnson, Cleveland; Grant Hurst, Cleveland; Tray Curry, Bradley Central, Quante Berry, Bradley Central; Blake Campbell, Walker Valley; Noah Duprey, Walker Valley; Jordan Munck, Walker Valley; Jamaal Walker, East Hamilton; Morrell Schramm, East Hamilton; Greyson Wood, Ooltewah; Logan Henry, Ooltewah; Jacob Elkins, McMinn County; Tyler Peel, McMinn County; Logan Ricketts, Soddy-Daisy.
Distict MVP: Cameron Montgomery, East Hamilton.
District Coach of the Year: Jason McCowan, Cleveland.
Boys Championship Game
at Soddy-Daisy HS
Cleveland 7 15 12 15 7 — 56
East Hamilton 15 13 9 12 5 — 54
Cleveland (56) — JaCobi Wood 21, Isaiah Johnson 16, Grant Hurst 14, Howard 2, McGowan 2, Williams 1, Dale, Colbaugh.
East Hamilton (54) — Jamaal Walker 19, Cameron Montgomery 14, Morrell Schramm 11, D. Randolph 6, Long 3, Johnson 1, S. Randolph, Shropshire, Eller.
3-point goals: Cleveland 5 (Johnson 2, Hurst 2, Wood); East Hamilton 3 (Walker, Montgomery, Schramm).
Free throws: Cleveland 11 of 17: East Hamilton 13 of 19.
Records: Cleveland 25-4, East Hamilton 23-8.
Print subscribers have FREE access to clevelandbanner.com by registering HERE
Non-subscribers have limited monthly access to local stories, but have options to subscribe to print, web or electronic editions by clicking HERE
We are sorry but you have reached the maximum number of free local stories for this month. If you have a website account here, please click HERE to log in for continued access.
If you are a print subscriber but do not have an account here, click HERE to create a website account to gain unlimited free access.
Non-subscribers may gain access by subscribing to any of our print or electronic subscriptions HERE