The loss to the Eagles (11-14, 5-7) was especially stinging for the Blue Raiders (15-9, 9-3), who had been tied for first place in the District 5-AAA race up until Tuesday’s 73-70 defeat.
The Lady Raiders (15-8, 7-5) were topped by the Lady Eagles (18-8, 6-6) 45-42.
District 5-AAA saw two of its three top-seeded boys teams fall last night to lower ranked teams, as Bradley Central also lost to Walker Valley.
The Raiders went into Tuesday’s game having barely managed a win over the Mustangs on Friday night. The evening started out on a sour note, with Cleveland being handed a technical foul prior to the game.
The Eagles were able to pick up the lead early, sinking almost every shot they made in the first period. By the end of the first, Rhea County led the game 27-16.
The Raiders stepped up offensively and came back to score 23 points in the second period, decreasing their deficit to only eight points by the end of the first half.
Cleveland’s offensive momentum carried over into the second half, as the Raiders were able to end the third period with a two-point lead over the Eagles, 56-54.
Kendrick Thompson got the fourth period scoring under way with a 3-pointer, but another Cleveland technical foul kept Rhea County within three points of taking over the lead.
Both DJ Jones and Thompson added to the Raiders’ lead, and with three minutes left in the fourth period Cleveland was ahead 67-59. Two free throws from Cantrel Ware extended that lead another two points. Thompson was able to add one more point to the scoreboard, leaving the Raiders ahead 70-62 with under two minutes remaining in the game.
The Eagles were able to tie up the game with 7.8 seconds left. Just when it seemed that overtime was imminent, Jalen Smith pulled out the win with a 3-pointer coming in the last .03 seconds in the game. That 3-pointer was Smith’s sixth of the night.
Smith had been the hot hand for Rhea County all night, racking up an impressive 41 points during the game.
“We ran up against a phenomenal individual effort by Jalen Smith with Rhea County. To me, when we went into the season I felt that he was the best offensive player in the whole district,” Cleveland head coach Jason McCowan said. “He’s a very good contested jump shooter, and when he was making some of those early I thought ‘Man we’re in a little bit of trouble,’ because I thought our kids really guarded him well and he made a lot of tough shots.”
The only other Eagle to score over 10 points was Nick McWherter with 13 points.
Rhea County was also more successful from the free-throw line Tuesday night, hitting 16-of-22 foul shots. The Eagles were perfect from the free-throw line in the fourth period, hitting seven foul shots. Cleveland struggled a bit at the charity stripe, hitting only 7-of-16 foul shots. Five of those missed foul shots came in the fourth period alone.
Thompson led the Raiders in points, with 26 points. CJ Bryant was responsible for 15 of the Raiders points.
“I thought our kids played hard. We got hit in the mouth to start the game off, and dug our heels in and battled back. I was proud of our effort, but we kind of ran up against a buzz saw last night, you’ve got to give him a lot of credit,” McCowan said of his team’s effort.
With their final district game ending in a loss, the fate of Cleveland’s ranking now rests in the hands of their rivals, Bradley Central. The Bears will take on Ooltewah in a district makeup game Friday evening. If Bradley wins, the Raiders will be back in a tie with the Owls for first place. If Ooltewah wins, Cleveland will have to settle for second place.
“You never know now, I thought we would win last night, I thought Bradley would win against Walker Valley, and both of us lost,” McCowan explained. “It’s going to be up in the air and its going to make for a very interesting district tournament,” McCowan explained.
LADY EAGLES 45,
LADY RAIDERS 42
Despite winning the tipoff, the Lady Raiders found themselves quickly playing catch-up with the Lady Eagles Tuesday night.
The first period ended with Cleveland trailing 15-8, as the girls struggled to get the ball in the hole.
The Lady Raiders’ roster was finally back to full strength, but it took some time before the lineups came together during the game.
“It took us a while to get our groove back and find some good lineups,” Lady Raiders coach Mindy Kiser stated.
Both teams started off the second period having trouble making baskets, as the score remained unchanged until just under 4:30 remained in the first half. The Lady Eagles were able to make things start to happen, and ended the half up 22-14.
The second half was when Kiser felt things began to work in Cleveland’s advantage.
“In the second half I thought we found a groove. Nora (Berry) played really well tonight, Jenna (Scoggins) did a good job controlling the game, and Hallea (McClendon) did a good job inside. We had some good stuff from a lot of different people. I thought Atarah (Abdullah-Muhammad) defended really well. We were just trying to get our groove back.”
As the fourth period began, the Lady Raiders only trailed the Lady Eagles by five points. Things did seem to be working for Cleveland, as a basket by Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad gave the Lady Raiders a 42-40 lead over Rhea County.
Amber Levi put up a 3-pointer, which gave the Lady Eagles a single point lead with just under 30 seconds remaining in the game. Julie Brown extended that lead by another point with a foul shot.
Q. Abdullah-Muhammad had the chance to tie up the game in the last 13 seconds with two foul shots of her own, but missed the first one and lost the second point due to a lane violation.
A final foul shot put up by the Lady Eagles put the proverbial nail in the coffin for the Lady Raiders.
With mere seconds remaining Sydnie Anderson attempted to get one final shot off for Cleveland, which came up short. The visitors came out as the victors, winning the game 45-42.
This was the Lady Raiders’ last district game, and they finished with a district record of 7-5. Their final regular season game will be in Knoxville Friday night, as Cleveland takes on Knoxville West.
Rhea County 15 7 10 13 — 45
Cleveland 8 6 13 15 — 42
LADY EAGLES (45) — Amber Levi 13, Julie Brown 12, Thurman 8, Thompson 5, Miles 5, Loden 2, Rivis, Freeman, Boyd, Wallis, Purser, Mathews, McClendon, Carder.
LADY RAIDERS (42) — Nora Berry 12, Scoggins 7, Syd Anderson 6,Ware 5, Capron 4, McClendon 2, Ginestri 2, A. Abdullah-Muhammad 2, Q. Abdullah-Muhammad 2, Geren, Whittemore, Crump, Sha. Anderson, Phillips, Fugate, Saliba.
3-point goals: Rhea County 2(Brown, Levi); Cleveland 4 (Berry 2, Scoggins, Syd Anderson).
Records: Rhea County District 18-8, 6-6 5-AAA; Cleveland 15-8, 7-5 District 5-AAA.
Rhea County 27 20 7 19 — 73
Cleveland 16 23 17 14 — 70
EAGLES (73) — Jalen Smith 41, Nick McWherter 13, Harrison 7, M. Patterson 6, Hall 2, Loden 2, Jenkins 2, Hill, N. Patterson, Crook, Hunter, Pendleton, Downey.
BLUE RAIDERS (70) — Kendrick Thompson 26, CJ Bryant 15, Jones 8, Ware 7, Little 6, Johnson 6, Brown 2, Dykes, Beaty, Gibson, McCree, Constant.
3-point goals: Rhea County 7 (Smith 6, Bryan); Cleveland 5 (Thompson 3, Ware, Bryant).
Records: Rhea County 11-14, 5-7 District 5-AAA; Cleveland 15-9, 9-3 District 5-AAA.