After holding only a one point lead for three quarters, it was a strong, revised defensive effort by the Raiders (6-5, 2-2) that shook up the Mustangs’ (8-7, 2-3) execution enough to come away with the win.
According to Walker Valley head coach Bob Williams, the turning point in the rivalry game was his team’s turnovers and lack of execution.
“The turnovers and the bad execution were the key to (losing) the game,” Williams said.
“I’ve got to do a better job of getting the guys in the right places. We had momentum there early, and then for whatever reason we couldn’t execute on offense. We’ve got to regroup and figure that out.”
For Raiders head coach Jason McCowan, a defensive adjustment made at halftime helped sway the momentum in Cleveland’s favor.
“Defensively in our press we had to an adjustment at halftime. The kids did a good job with the adjustment in the second half,” McCowan stated. “I felt that Cantrel (Ware) and TyQwon (Ware) did a good job playing alongside each other and trapping and rotating. Full court defensively we made a good adjustment and to me that was the biggest difference because we weren’t letting the ball get up the floor as easily as we were in the first half.”
By the end of the first quarter, the Raiders found themselves with a narrow, 16-15 lead over the Mustangs.
In a second quarter marred with a plethora of turnovers by both teams as well as a lack of offensive execution, only five points a piece were added to the scoreboard as the half ended 21-20 in Cleveland’s favor.
It took three full minutes before a shot found its way into the net, which came from the charity stripe for Cleveland.
The Raiders’ leading scorer, senior Kendrick Thompson, was noticeably absent in the first 16 minutes of the game as he uncharacteristically had no points by the end of the first half.
“You could tell that we panicked a little bit when Kendrick wasn’t playing well, but then we had a couple kids come in and hit some shots, which calmed us down,” McCowan explained. “I felt that when we got the pace up a little bit we didn’t worry so much about Kendrick missing shots and started concentrating and focusing on making the plays and shots.”
Offensive, as well as defensive efforts for the Raiders were bolstered by Mason Brown, Colby Tatum, Cantrel Ware and Jake Gibson.
“Kendrick had 35 points in two of the last three games and kids have a tendency to watch. I felt that Jake Gibson was a huge lift for us off the bench, making a big shot and doing some great things defensively. Mason, Anfernee and Colby did a really good job of stepping up, which calmed Kendrick down. It was nice to have a whole team effort,” McCowan proclaimed.
Walker Valley was able to keep Cleveland on its toes in the first half thanks to the offensive efforts of Dustin Swafford, Austin Harwood and Brandon Crews.
In the third quarter Thompson burst on the scene for the Raiders, hitting two 3-pointers almost back-to-back.
“We held Kendrick down for a while, but then he started hitting shots in the third quarter. He’s a good player and one of our keys was slowing him down, which I think we did until he got a couple good looks,” Williams stated.
Both teams had an evenly match third quarter, finishing with nine apiece.
The fourth quarter began with a 30-29 lead for Cleveland, and in a short time the Rowdy Raiders were ahead of the Mustangs by eight.
“When we got rolling and went on a big run the game was coming to us,” McCowan said.
Ten fouls on Walker Valley as well as another pair of 3’s from Thompson further helped solidify a 56-43 victory for Cleveland.
“We’re playing well. I think our kids are getting more comfortable with their roles and are settling in to who we are (as a team),” McCowan commented.
Despite a slow start, Thompson led the Raiders in points with a total of 16, with Cantrel Ware netting a total of 12 points.
Harwood led the Mustang offense with 14 points in the game.
Cleveland went 21-for-27 from the free-throw line, with Walker Valley hitting 12-of-15 free-throws.
The Mustangs are in the midst of a busy week as they host Baylor tonight and travel to District 5-AAA opponent East Hamilton on Friday.
The Raiders continue district action on Friday when McMinn County comes to town.
Walker Valley 15 5 9 14 — 43
Cleveland 16 5 9 26 — 56
MUSTANGS (43) — Austin Harwood 14, Swafford 8, Crews 6, Korn 5, Jones 4, Morrow 2, Herd 2, L. Melton 2, Russell, Williams, Hunt, Conway, C. Melton, Montgomery, Nunnelly.
RAIDERS (56) — Kendrick Thompson 16, Cantrel Ware 12, Brown 7, TyQwon Ware 6, Tatum 6, Gibson 3, Beaty 2, Scott 2, Dennard 2, Bracero, Vecchio, Munoz, Oliver, McRee.
3-POINTERS: WV 3 ( Harwood 2, Crews); CHS 9 (Thompson 4, Brown 2, Tatum 2).
FREE THROWS: WV 12-of-15; CHS 21-of-27.
RECORDS: Walker Valley 8-7, 2-3 District 5-AAA; Cleveland 6-5, 2-2 District 5-AAA.