The Lady Raiders had ample opportunities to catch the Lady Cherokees and did so twice in the third quarter, but could not pick up the extra points when needed and fell by a final of 43-35.
The Blue Raiders pounded the inside against the Cherokees with 24 points — including three monster slams — from Jahmal Johnson and blistered the nets from the perimeter with 22 from C.J. Bryant who helped Cleveland pick up a 78-62 District 5-AAA win over the Cherokees with six 3-pointers.
Kendrick Thompson played no small role in the victory, oscillating from the outside for three 3-pointers and the inside for 10 more points to finish up with 19.
“I think we had every opportunity to win the ballgame. We were down nine and tied it back up. We just let it slip away,” said Lady Raiders coach Mindy Kiser. “I think we got a little tired. We were in some positions we have never been in with this group. I think we didn’t value the basketball there for a little while and had some turnovers and kind of let it get away from us.”
The Lady Raiders (13-6, 5-3 in District 5-AAA) fought back from a 21-15 first-half deficit to score the first six points of the third quarter, tying the game at 21-21. Cleveland tied again at 23-all before the Lady Cherokees (14-5, 7-2) popped in eight unanswered points to go up for good.
Kiser stated she felt the quickness of the Lady Raiders caused some of the mistakes of aggression that gave the advantage back to McMinn County late in the quarter.
“We want to play off of our strengths and one of those is our quickness. I feel like we have to look to kick (the ball back outside) a little bit and get people in the right spot,” she said.
A 3 from the right corner by Graicyn Walkup and a 2-pointer from Atarah Abdullah-Muhammad made it a four-point game in favor of the Lady Cherokees at 34-30.
It would be as close as the Lady Raiders could get. Cleveland managed only five more points the rest of the way and the Lady Cherokees closed out the win.
“I told them this is the film we go watch. There is great stuff in there. There is stuff we need to do a lot better, but what a learning film for our bunch. We had two kids that had 10 rebounds and Atarah had 15 points; that is outside of herself. That is something she hasn’t been able to get out and do this year. I think there are a lot of things we can take away from this game, definitely,” said Kiser.
“At one point I looked out there and we had five sophomores on the floor. What a great group. They were playing so hard and it is a learning process. They have done it a little bit, but I thought they started to get the hang of some things tonight. I am super proud of their effort. I cannot fault their effort. I can’t wait to watch the film. I think there is going to be some really good stuff to see.”
BLUE RAIDERS 78,
Inside, outside, all around the court.
While Bryant rained 3s from outside the arc, Johnson took care of business inside for the Blue Raiders in an effort that paid off big time for Cleveland against district rival McMinn County.
“We have been seeing outstanding effort from Jahmal Johnson. The light is really clicking on and I’m really glad for that this time of year. He is playing hard. From where we started he has come a long way,” said Cleveland coach Jason McCowan.
McCowan also lauded the Raiders’ outside game as a whole, but said it was led by Bryant.
“C.J. shot it really well tonight. If we can continue to do that, if C.J. can shoot it well one night or Kendrick can shoot it well one night, let’s find out who that guy is and get it to him. C.J. did a good job. The ball was in his hands a lot and he was able to find that open look right off the bat,” he said.
“Jahmal and Dustin (Little) helped loosen that up where they were more worried inside and we were able to work inside out more than we normally do.”
After a close first quarter that saw the Raiders cling to a 14-13 lead, Cleveland opened it up with seven straight points to start the second. Another run of nine points put the Blue Raiders up 30-15. They closed out the half with a 33-23 advantage.
“We were able to turn defensive rebounds into scores in transition. If we can get them to take a bad shot and get the defensive rebound, we are good in transition and we were able to make some plays and loosen the game up a bit,” said McCowan.
The Cherokees (8-12, 3-6) made a strong run in the third quarter cutting the lead to 39-34 with 3:36 left to play. Two 3s from Bryant opened it back up a bit and Cleveland held a 51-42 lead to open the fourth quarter.
Bryant and Thompson lifted in 3-pointers to open the final eight minutes for Cleveland (12-8, 6-2 District 5-AAA) and put the Raiders back out by 13. Cleveland led by 18 with 2:05 left and closed it out with a 14-point win.
The victory gives McCowan no pause for celebration with a full slate of tough district games looming on the horizon.
“We have four tough district games coming up, two on the road and two at home. We’ve got to take care of business,” he said.
“If we want any kind of chance at having a bye we can’t have any kind of letup. Every game has to be a do-or-die moment for us and hopefully that prepares us for the tournament. If you are not in the No. 1-seed you are in a do-or-die game right off the bat.”
LADY CHEROKEES 43, LADY RAIDERS 35
McMinn County 17 4 13 9 — 43
Cleveland 9 6 10 10 — 35
McMinn County (43) — Keke Smith 12, Haley Harp 10, Rachel Burke 10, Dispensa 5, Guadiola, 4, Thompson 2, Simbeck.
Cleveland (35) — Atarah Abdulla-Muhammad 15, Ginstri 6, Scoggins 4, McClendon 4, Walkup 3, Crump 2, Ware 1.
3-point goals: McMinn County 2 (Ward); Cleveland 1 (Walkup).
Records: McMinn County 14-5, 7-2 District 5-AAA; Cleveland 13-6, 5-3.
BLUE RAIDERS 78, CHEROKEES 62
McMinn County 13 10 19 20 — 62
Cleveland 14 19 18 27 — 78
McMinn County (62) — Quentin Versa 22, Martin 5, Marshall 5, Edgemon 2, Simpson.
Cleveland (78) — Jaahmal Johnson 24, C.J. Bryant 22, Kendrick Thompson 19, Little 9, Brown 2, Jones 2, Beaty, Scott.
3-point goals: McMinn County 2 (Marshall, Jones); Cleveland 10 (Bryant 6, Thompson 3, Johnson).
Records: McMinn County 8-12, 3-6 District 5-AAA; Cleveland 12-8, 6-2.