The inaugural Scenic City Showcase at East Hamilton High on Friday had a point to prove.
Consider it proven.
The Rock Christian Lions, who headlined a strong out-of-town contingent of boys teams, left no doubt that they’re the class of the two-day event.
Host East Hamilton and Cleveland showed they are teams very capable of strongly competing against tough competition from across the Southeast with regional and national reputations.
“I thought the first night went great,” Hurricanes boys coach Michael Stone said. “Everything went smoothly. We had some close games and a lot of parity and three Division I colleges had coaches here – Tennessee, Western Kentucky and Gardner-Webb. We also had coaches from Chattanooga State and Cleveland State.”
The Rock (17-3) stole the spotlight, to no one’s surprise, by trouncing Hamilton Heights, 82-31.
Stone’s Hurricanes knocked off Faith Baptist (15-2) with a strong 45-point second half against a team that was playing for the second time in three hours.
Cleveland’s Blue Raiders, who fell behind 9-0 to Central Park, got a sterling career-high 34-point performance from junior guard Kendrick Thompson that included nine 3-pointers – five in the second period – in a 71-69 overtime loss.
Sixteen missed free throws doomed the Blue Raiders (11-8).
“The Cleveland game was fantastic,” Stone said. “A two-point game in overtime, you can’t ask for more than that. Cleveland wasn’t intimidated at all.
“That’s one thing we wanted to show tonight. There are some teams in Chattanooga that can compete on this level.”
Also, Faith Baptist, which didn’t bring its Elite team that included Georgia signee J.J. Frazier to town – that unit was competing in a Tallahassee, Fla., tournament – and had three key players missing from the eight-man squad that did show up, beat Lancaster Christian, 75-67, in the opening boys game. Faith’s Marquise Chandler had 31 points in that one and later added 23 against the Hurricanes.
The Rock brought perhaps the best talent from top-to-bottom seen on one team in Chattanooga since the hey-days of bitter rivals Riverside and Howard in the 1960s. Riverside won back-to-back state titles in 1968-69 and captured a third in 1972 when it beat Howard in the championship game in Nashville.
And Brainerd claimed state titles in 1984, 1988 and 1992, combining for a 103-14 record in those three seasons, so the Panthers could be thrown into the comparison mix.
Still, The Rock stands like Gibraltar.
Seven-foot center, Joel Embiid, who is from Cameroon and has signed to play collegiately at Kansas, led the Lions’ balanced attack with 17 points, including one 3.
Six-foot-eight Glenn Feidanga scored 12 points. Junior Mitchell Wilbekin, whose brother, Scottie, is a junior with coach Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators, scored 11 points – he drained three 3s – for the prep power based in Gainesville, Fla., that recently played in a national tournament in Mitchell, S.D. Senior Christian Benzon also had 11 points.
The Rock jumped out to a 27-11 first-quarter lead and then outscored Hamilton Heights, 39-10, in the middle periods – the Hawks managed two points in the third – and went into the final eight minutes of playing leading 66-21.
“We have so much talent we run nine guys in there, all of whom are capable of playing at the next level,” fourth-year coach Justin Harden said. “Our biggest challenge is to play well together and we did that tonight. We got off to a fast start, got some defensive stops and those turned into easy transition baskets. That makes the game a lot of fun for us.”
Hamilton Heights (8-8), which has 13 international players on its 14-player roster and aspires to become a player on the national scene, got 12 points from Rokas Paulauskas, who is from Kedainiai, Lithuania.
Veteran Hawks coach Bill Eller was asked if The Rock was the best team he had ever coached against.
“No,” Eller said, “and I’ll tell you why. When I coached at Hixson we went down to Dalton (Ga.) and played a team out of Marietta that had the sons of Dale Ellis and Patrick Ewing playing for them.
“The game was 19-19 after one quarter and I thought we were doing great. We were down 42-19 at halftime and I didn’t want to come back out for the second half. But, this team (The Rock) ranks right up there with that Marietta team.”
How will Eller use Thursday’s game down the road? Discard it? Learn from it.?
“If you’re a competitor at all, you won’t discard it,” he said. “We just played scared tonight. We played that same team down at Faith Baptist in Ludowici, Ga., in September and lost by 20.
East Hamilton placed three players in double figures against Faith Baptist. Cody Knox led the Hurricanes with 16 points, Ladarius Watkins had 15 and Dominic Powell 13.
Shaliek Ulysse scored 29 to lead Faith Baptist.
The Hurricanes built a 50-44 lead after three quarters and stretched the margin to 64-55 on a put-back by Watkins with 2:35 left in the game. Shaquille Evans’ follow trimmed East Hamilton’s lead to 66-59, but the Hurricanes scored six of the game’s final eight points to post the victory.
“We came out flat, unenergetic,” Stone said, “but I’m proud the way the guys played in the second half. Our defense was much better. We forced more perimeter shots and were stingy in the paint. That was the difference in the ballgame.”
Thompson did all he could to put the Blue Raiders over the top.
When Cleveland stormed back from an 18-16 deficit to grab a 37-30 halftime lead over Central Park (10-5), Thompson poured in five 3-pointers to spark the surge.
Cleveland led 55-52 in the fourth quarter, but the Eagles’ Jinan Nance drained a 3 from the right corner to knot the game at 55-all. Cleveland’s C.J. Bryant hit a free throw. The Eagles’ Roderick Harris hit a 3 and Central Park was up, 58-56.
Thompson uncorked another 3 from the right wing and Cleveland had a one-point edge. Central Park’s Srdjan Budimir canned two free throws for a 60-59 lead. Jahmal Johnson of Cleveland made two free throws, Thompson added one and the Raiders led, 62-60, with 37.2 seconds left in regulation.
The Eagles’ Walter Arnold dropped in a free throw and then drove the lane after a mid-court steal for a layup and Central Park had a 63-62 lead with 16.4 seconds remaining. Bryant’s free throw – he missed the first one – tied the game at 63-63 with 7.4 seconds left.
Central Park built a 69-65 overtime lead, but D.J. Jones’ baseline drive pulled the Raiders within 69-67 with less than a minute to play. The Eagles’ Abdoulaye Gueye hit a free throw and Harris added one for a 71-67 lead at the 13-second mark.
Isaiah Beaty’s shot with 2.4 seconds left got Cleveland to within two, but time expired.
Budimir led the Eagles with 16 points. Arnold had 13 and Harris finished with 11 for Central Park.
“Thompson is capable of doing that every night on the court,” Cleveland coach Jason McCowan said. “He’s a whale of a shooter, but he can’t let little things affect him and we have to be sure and find him.”
The Blue Raiders couldn’t overcome Central Park’s size – Budimir (6-5), Gueye (6-11) and Williams (6-10) made up the front line. Central Park also had 7-foot Fred Iduwe available to go against the smaller Raiders, whose tallest player was the 6-6 Johnson.
“You just never seen that kind of size,” McCowan said. “That’s why we got into so much foul trouble. It took a toll on us.
“But it felt like we won every aspect of the game but one – free throw shooting. When you lose by two points in overtime and miss 16 free throws you can point directly at that as the reason. I’m super proud of my guys and hope we’ve gained a lot of confidence by playing like we did.”
In girls games, Hamilton Heights’ Lady Hawks edged The Rock, 40-39, East Hamilton was beaten by South Carolina-ALI, 67-60, and Lancaster Christian defeated South Carolina-ALI, 60-45.
No report was available on the Cleveland-Central Park girls contest.
Teodora Zagorac scored a game-high 23 points to lead the Lady Hawks.
Jessica Caudle had a game-high 26 in the Lady Hurricanes’ win over South Carolina-ALI. Alexius Zackery and Kaylee Moon each scored 10 for East Hamilton.
Scenic City Showcase Summaries
Lancaster Christian 12 13 14 21 – 60
South Carolina-ALI 9 17 15 4 – 45
Lancaster Christian (60) – Jalyn Brooks 15, Bragg, Holmes, Argo 1, Solima, K.K. Williams 14, Perryman, Casey Cook 15, Sydney Floyd 15.
South Carolina-ALI (445) – Victor 2, Cierra Miles 11, Ashley Sims 22, Greene 6, Trudeau 4.
3-Point Goals: Lancaster Christian 3 (Brooks 2, Williams); South Carolina-ALI 4 (Sims 4).
The Rock 11 12 10 6 – 39
Hamilton Heights 7 9 18 6 – 40
The Rock (39) – Krucubskaitz 2, Bugarski 8, Trisic 7, Bosancic 4, Wall 2, Polinsky 8, Jenka Stiasna 10.
Hamilton Heights (40) – Paulauskaite 2, Akpan 8, Teodora Zagorac 23, Savickaite 1, Savic 6 .
3-Point Goals: The Rock 1 (Bubarski); Hamilton Heights 1 (Zagorac).
South Carolina-ALI 13 14 13 27 – 67
East Hamilton 16 11 12 21 – 60
South Carolina-ALI (67) – Ashley Sims 14, Cierra Miles 18, Green 24, , Trudeau 9, Victor 2.
East Hamilton (60) – Jessica Caudle 26, Harp 6, Stovall, Pratt, Woods 4, K. Caudle 2, McCollum, Alexius Zackery 10, Kaylee Moon 10, Wood 2.
3-Point Goals: South Carolina-ALI 8 (Green 5, Sims 2, Miles); East Hamilton 3 (J. Caudle 3).
Faith Baptist 17 20 18 20 – 75
Lancaster Christian 16 15 19 17 – 67
Faith Baptist (75) – Evans 6, Bell 4, Cobb, Marquise Chandler 31, Shalick Ulysse 17, Bell 7
Lancaster Christian (67) – Wright 2, McKee 6, Demetrius Rogers 15, Eric Evans 22, Jacob Freeze 10, Upton 5, Jasmin 2, McDade 2.
3-Point Goals: Faith Baptist 5 (Chandler 2, Ulysse 2, Bell); Lancaster Christian 1 (Rogers).
Central Park 18 12 17 16 8 – 71
Cleveland 16 21 11 15 6 – 69
Central Park (71) – Walter Arnold 13, Roderick Harris 11, Williams 8, Srdjan Budimir 16, Gueye 5, Iduwe 8, Nance 5.
Cleveland (69) – C.J. Bryant 10, Kendrick Thompson 34, Isaiah Beaty 10, Ware, Little 2, Johnson 7, Jones 6.
3-Point Goals: Central Park 5 (Arnold 3, Harris 2); Cleveland 10 (Thompson 9, Bryant).
The Rock 27 16 23 16 – 82
Hamilton Heights 11 8 2 10 – 31
The Rock (82) – Mitchell Wilbekin 11, Christian Benzon 11, Diatta 7, Olsen 8, Harrell 8, Bitondo 6, Jenkins 2, Glenn Feidanga 12, Joel Embiid 17.
Hamilton Heights (31) – Mandic 6, Osemwegie 3, Vaikus 7, Monteiro 3, Janjetovic, Jovanovic, Balogum, Rokas Paulauskas 12.
3-Point Goals: The Rock 8 (Wilbekin 3, Olsen 2, Diatta, Harrell, Embiid); Hamilton Heights 2 (Vaikus, Monteiro).
Faith Baptist 18 15 11 19 – 63
East Hamilton 19 10 21 24 – 74
Faith Baptist (63) – Marquise Chandler 23, B. Bell, C. Bell 2, Jarrett, Evans 6, Cobb, Shaliek Ulysse 29, Ulison 3.
East Hamilton (74) – Lowery 4, Dominic Powell 13, Bunton 6, Tre Herndon 14, Griffith 6, Cody Knox 16, Ladarius Watkins 15, Dennis.
3-Point Goals: Faith Baptist 2 (Chandler 2); East Hamilton 5 (Herndon 3, Bunton, Powell).
The Rock girls vs. Hamilton Heights, MSG
Faith Baptist boys vs. East Hamilton, HGS
SC-ALI girls vs. East Hamilton, MSG
The Rock boys vs. Hamilton Heights, HSG
The Rock girls vs. GPS, MSG
The Rock boys vs. McCallie, HSG
Hamilton Heights girls vs. SC-ALI, MSG
East Hamilton boys vs. Central Park, HSG
East Hamilton girls vs. Central Park, MSG
Hamilton Heights boys vs. Faith Baptist, HSG
Legend: MSG – Middle School Gym; HSG – High School Gym
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)