Cleveland boys basketball coach Jason McCowan sat on the Blue Raiders' bench taking a mental video of White County in the early going Saturday at Cleveland Middle School.
The last time the two teams faced off was in a non-official capacity during the summer. In that game, the Warriors walked off with a two-point win on a last-second shot. Since then, McCowan and the Raiders had only seen the Warriors on video and had no idea what to actually expect Saturday night in the opening round of the Region 3-AAA basketball tournament.
This time around, Kendrick Thompson led the way for Cleveland scoring 19 points in the 57-50 victory sending the Blue Raiders to the semifinals Tuesday against District 6-AAA champion Stone Memorial.
Jake Gibson reached double figures for the Blue Raiders with 13.
"We made some free throws there at the end and we came up with a 50/50 ball to seal the game which I was really proud of. When you are tied it could go either way," said McCowan. "We did miss some key free throws to get to a five-point lead. The big key was making the free throws when it counted and coming up with the 50/50 ball.”
McCowan's video intel of the first quarter included three Cleveland 3-pointers from Cantrel Ware, Gibson and Thompson. The Warriors missed 5 of 6 attempts from behind the arc as the Blue Raiders built a 13-5 lead after one quarter of play.
The onsite evaluation also included seeing a White County team McCowan said was both aggressive and tentative in the early going.
"They were a little tentative early, but (Cade) Crossland came out and played really hard. (Kordell) Henderson was kind of feeling his way at first," McCowan said of his evaluation. "Our pressure was something they didn't adjust to real well right off the bat. You could tell they had a little trouble executing their offense. But they got more comfortable with it as the game went on."
Henderson hit the second White County 3 to open the second quarter then sank two free throws to cut the Cleveland lead to 13-10. The Raiders continued to rack up fouls as the seconds ticked off the second quarter clock. White County cut the Raiders' lead to 13-12 following the 10th Cleveland offense. Two minutes later the Warriors beat the Raiders through the lane twice to take a 17-14 lead before Cantrel Ware tied the game at 17-17 with his first 3 of the night.
Ware later put Cleveland up by one from the free-throw line. TyQwon Ware and Mason Brown put the Raiders out front 21-17 also from the line. With 1:01 left in the half, Cantrel Ware gave the Blue Raiders a nine-point lead after being fouled on a drive to the net.
A change in defensive strategy and free throws eventually locked up the game for the Blue Raiders.
"We tried to go more of a man press to begin with then switched to a zone press and got them kind of confused a little bit and got us stretched to a pretty comfortable lead," McCowan said of the early game plan alteration. "But they are a tough team, they don't quit battling."
The Raiders, holding a 26-17 lead to open the third quarter, put the leather in the hands of Thompson who tossed in seven points, including the first 3 of the second half for the Raiders, to put Cleveland out front 33-23. A minute later TyQwon Ware followed with a 3 and a 2 to make it 38-25 Blue Raiders with 4:12 left in the third quarter. Thompson hit one more from long range before the buzzer and the Raiders hit five more free throw to lead 44-37 after three quarters of basketball.
The Warriors quickly cut it to 44-39 to open the fourth. The Blue Raiders lost the services of TyQwon Ware with 5:51 left in the game after the Cleveland junior went down with a hand injury driving to the basket. The wound hurt the Raiders a bit more when Ware was called on a charge.
With Ware being attended to off the court, the Warriors rallied back to tie the game at 48-48 with 4:15 left in the game before Gibson made good on a pair of free tosses to give Cleveland a two-point lead with 3:28 to go.
With 1:59 on the clock, the Warriors missed the front end of a 1-and-1 setting the Blue Raiders back up on offense. With 48 seconds left, White County made it a 50-50 game before a Warriors foul sent Thompson to the line with seven seconds left in regulation. Thompson sank the first shot, but missed the second with Cantrel Ware grabbing the rebound and a foul. Ware lifted in two tosses to put the Raiders out front 52-50 with five seconds on the clock.
A long inbounds pass by the Warriors was picked off by Gibson who raced from mid court through the lane for the score locking up the win.
"I thought we came out and executed our game plan really well. But the second quarter we went into a scoring funk. We were playing really good defense, getting stops but not being able to score. We took some bad shots also that I knew they were going to give us, but I'd rather drive than shoot."
Region 3-AAA Boys Tournament
White County 5 12 20 13 — 50
Cleveland 13 13 18 13 — 57
SPARTANS (50) — Kordell Henderson 22, Fresh 7, Stevenson 6, Crosland 5, Newport 4, Vaughn 3, Nash 3, Bruce.
BLUE RAIDERS (57) — Kendrick Thompson 19, Jake Gibson 13, T. Ware 9, Scott 9, C. Ware 4.
3-point goals: White County 4 (Henderson 2, Crosland, Fresh); Cleveland 7 (Thompson 3, T. Ware, Scott, Gibson).
Records: White County 22-8; Cleveland 18-8.