East Hamilton played miserably against Brainerd back in early December, losing by 23 points.
Apparently, the Hurricanes’ home floor is worth 17 points.
DeVonte Cooper, Jay Besley and Marques Tipton combined for 41 points and the Panthers made eight straight free throws in the final 51.6 seconds to hold off the Hurricanes, 49-43, in a key District 6-AA game Tuesday night.
“I’m glad we answered the 23-point embarrassment (59-36) in December,” East Hamilton coach Michael Stone said. “We played competitive and I was proud of our effort.”
Still, it wasn’t enough against the up-and-down Panthers.
“We’re in this pattern where we play well one night and sloppy the next,” Brainerd coach Robert High said. “This was our night to play well. No telling what’s going to happen at the end of the week when the sloppy night comes.”
Brainerd was spot-on in the final minute at the charity stripe after East Hamilton’s Tre Herndon drilled a shot from the right wing to cut the Panthers’ lead to 41-40 with 1:45 left.
Besley, the smallest player on the floor, hit four free throws, Tipton knocked down two and Demarcus Otis made the seventh and eighth in succession as Brainerd (11-10, 7-4) completed the regular-season sweep.
“That’s the best we’ve shot free throws in a while,” High said. “We played two games Saturday and were sloppy in both. But free throws won the game tonight.”
For the game, Brainerd made 12 of 15 free throws.
“This was a big district game for both of us,” High said. “It’s a big district win for us and that’s what counts right now.”
The loss puts the Hurricanes in a bind with a tough closing stretch to the district schedule ahead of them.
“A win would have been big for us, too,” Stone said. “A loss puts us in a must-win situation, a lot like Brainerd was in tonight, and we go to (district leading) Howard on Thursday. A win tonight would have been big in trying to get one of the top four seeds. We have to play Howard twice, Central twice and they’re the darkhorse in the district, and a surging East Ridge twice. That’s tough.”
Howard is atop the district standings with a 7-1 record – the lone loss a 63-51 setback at Central on Dec. 14.
Cooper got the Panthers off to a fast start, scoring 13 of Brainerd’s first 17 points and helped build a 22-18 halftime lead.
He scored seven points to open the game and powered the Panthers to a 7-6 lead after Herndon and Dominic Powell opened with 3s for the Hurricanes (13-6, 5-2) – East Hamilton was an anemic 2-for-20 shooting from behind the arc in the December game, but made eight 3s on Tuesday.
East Hamilton was up 10-7, but the Panthers ran off 10 straight points – Cooper scored the last six – and took a 17-10 lead.
East Hamilton would never lead again.
“You have to credit Brainerd,” Stone said. “They out-executed us in every facet of the game. It turned out to be a three possession game and if they out-execute us three times on either end of the floor, there’s the difference.”
Cooper finished with a game-high 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
“He’s one of our seniors and he’s a really hard worker,” High said. “He never misses a practice. Even if he’s sick, he’ll be there shooting free throws. He’s a dedicated kid.”
Said Stone, “Cooper is a smart basketball player. You give him space, he’ll shoot the jumper. Get tight on him and he makes nice passes. As a big man, he really played a great ballgame.”
Besley scored 14 points and Tipton added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Powell led the Hurricanes with 14 points and Cody Knox scored 11.
In the December meeting, the Hurricanes shot 31.8 percent (14 of 44) from the floor and 20 percent from 3-point distance. They had 17 turnovers and only Knox could break double-digit scoring with 10 points.
And Brainerd outscored East Hamilton by a combined 37-10 in the first and third quarters.
While East Hamilton’s competitiveness kept the Hurricanes within striking distance throughout Tuesday’s game, the Panthers gave no ground.
East Hamilton trimmed Brainerd’s third-quarter lead to 26-23.
Brainerd answered with six straight points, triggered by Tipton’s 3-pointer.
In the fourth quarter, LaDarius Watkins’ bucket pulled the Hurricanes to within 36-33.
Besley drained a 3 from the right wing.
And when Knox scored on a baseline drive that ended with an off-balance shot to close Brainerd’s lead to 41-40 with 1:05 left in the game, Besley and Tipton each tossed in two free throws for a 45-40 lead.
Knox’s 3 from the left corner with a Brainerd defender in his face sliced the Hurricanes’ deficit to 45-43, but Tipton and Otis each hit two free throws in the final 31.7 seconds.
“We were right on the cusp,” Stone said. “Part of that speaks to Brainerd’s mental toughness. I don’t think coach High’s teams get enough credit for their discipline, and the fact they’re athletic helps. And their defensive rotations are as good as anybody in Chattanooga.
“Add in that they’re lightning quick at every position and that’s difficult to deal with. We have to figure out how to deal with that if we’re going to get where we want to go.”
East Hamilton girls 70, Brainerd 57: The district leading Lady Hurricanes (13-8, 7-0) stretched an eight-point margin to 49-36 late in the third quarter. They led, 53-43, early in the fourth quarter and stretched the spread to 61-43 with eight straight points – four each by Jessica Caudle and Juliette Harp.
The Lady Panthers (10-10, 7-4) managed to cut their deficit to 65-57 by outscoring East Hamilton, 14-2.
But East Hamilton got a field goal and Caudle’s 3 in the final 1:17 to erase any doubt.
“I thought we played well after a long weekend (in the Scenic City Showcase),” East Hamilton coach Derek Morris said. “I was worried about us being tired mentally. Every time Brainerd made a run at us we were able to extend our lead.”
Caudle led East Hamilton with 17 points. Harp had 15 points and Taylor Giles, who made three 3s in the first quarter as the Lady Hurricanes opened a 26-10 lead, finished with 13.
Jamee Ward scored a game-high 18 points for the Lady Panthers and Jamila Rowland had 10.
First place will be at stake Thursday night when East Hamilton travels to Howard, which went into Tuesday’s game at Hixson with a 5-0 district record.
East Hamilton has won back-to-back District 6-AA tournament titles and would like to capture a third before moving up to District 5-AAA next season.
Brainerd 10 13 18 16 – 57
East Hamilton 26 5 20 19 – 70
Brainerd (57) – Anisha Douglas 8, Jamila Rowland 10, Jamee Ward 18, Walker 7, Ellis 5, No. 23 7.
East Hamilton (70) – Jessica Caudle 17, Juliette Harp 15, Woods 4, K. Caudle 8, McCollum, Zackery 9, Moon 4, Taylor Giles 13.
3-Point Goals – Brainerd 3 (Douglas, Rowland, Ward); East Hamilton 8 (J.Caudle 3, Giles 3, K.Caudle, Zackery).
Brainerd 11 11 10 17 – 49
East Hamilton 10 8 8 17 – 43
Brainerd (49) – Jay Besley 14, Marques Tipton 10, Otis 2, Glenn, Moore 6, DeVonte Cooper 17, No. 42 2.
East Hamilton (43) – Dominic Powell 14, Bunton 5, Herndon 7, Cody Knox 11, Dennis, Watkins 6.
3-Point Goals – Brainerd 3 (Besley 2, Tipton); East Hamilton 8 (Powell 4, Knox 2, Bunton, Herndon).
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)