CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- They saved the best game for last here in the 2013 MurMaid Mattress Cleveland Classic at Cleveland High School Wednesday night.
It was so good, in fact, that they let McCallie and host Cleveland play an extra four-minute overtime period just to make sure the die-hard fans in attendance got their money's worth.
McCallie is now 3-1 following Wednesday's 69-66 thriller over the Blue Raiders.
Please keep in mind that two Cleveland starters are still playing football and a sixth man is still involved in the playoffs as well, but McCallie is still trying to put all of its pieces together as Winston Whitener and JaVaughn Craig were available on Wednesday for the first time.
But regardless of who was missing for either team, this game was worth the price of admission as both squads played their hearts out for the entire 36 minutes.
"We're still working to get everyone together, but we just asked everyone to play hard tonight," said McCallie coach Dan Wadley after the game ended.
"I don't know who their number five is, but he was lighting it up for Cleveland. Thank goodness that last shot didn't go in. I know they're missing some key players, but Cleveland has an outstanding basketball team.
"We're really young experience wise as C.J. Fritz is our only returning starter, but games like this give us confidence. We hit our free throws down the stretch, but we know that's important and that's why we practice them every day in practice.
"It was a tough game, but we're thrilled to be leaving here with a win tonight," Wadley added.
Cleveland didn't have much success getting the ball inside, but for a team that canned 11 from beyond the arc, getting the ball down low just might not be high on the priority list.
The game was tied on four occasions in the opening quarter, but the Blue Raiders got consecutive 3s from TyQuan Ware, Colby Tatum and Anfernee Scott in the final two minutes before reaching the first break with a 20-18 lead.
Jonathan Vecchio scored on a tip and a layup midway through the second periiod as Cleveland built a 32-26 lead, but McCallie came back with a free throw from Adrian Thomas, a short bank shot from Jordan Atkins and a 3 at the buzzer from Craig as the teams were deadlocked at 32 when the halftime horn sounded.
The game was tied three more times in the third quarter before McCallie scored the final six points for a 48-42 edge with eight minutes remaining.
Whitener converted a layup with 6:31 to play for McCallie's biggest lead at 54-45, but the Blue Raiders refused to surrender.
The difference was 57-50 following a nice inside move from Thomas with 4:55 to play, but while McCallie was sinking six straight from the free throw line in the final two minutes, Cleveland was on fire from beyond the arc.
Kendrick Thompson, who had scored 25 points in Cleveland's season-opening loss at Cumberland County, canned a 3 from the corner to get the Blue Raiders within 57-55 with 4:29 to play.
He added another bank shot on a drive from the wing with 1:50 showing to keep Cleveland within two, but it was his final two 3s from the same spot about 28 feet out on the right wing in the last minute that tied the score at 63-all.
McCallie had possession in the final 18 seconds but missed its final three shots as the horn sounded to end regulation.
Scott scored on a putback to give Cleveland its final lead at 65-63 with 2:47 left in overtime before Thomas canned a pair of free throws and an uncanny left-handed layup as the Blue Tornado pulled ahead 67-65 with 55 seconds to play.
Cantrel Ware sank the second of two free throws as Cleveland cut it to one with 29 second left, but Craig scored on a putback with 19 ticks remaining to give McCallie a little breathing room.
Cleveland's final play put the ball in Tatum's hands, but his shot from outside was off the mark and the putback by Vecchio was off as well as McCalled grabbed the final rebound as the horn sounded.
"This was an exciting night in the Raider Dome," said Cleveland coach Jason McCowan after his team had fallen to 0-2.
"I'm really proud of the way my guys battled, but we're facing waves of adversity in these early games and we must learn how to battle through them.
"Kendrik kept us in the game late as he hit some mighty big shots and we got a good look at the end that wouldn't fall. We had some other missed opportunities and our missed free throws at the end hurt," the Cleveland coach nodded.
Thomas was the offensive leader for McCallie as he finished with 20 points, including 14 in the second half. He also snagged nine rebounds.
Atkins was also instrumental as he finished with a double-double including 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Blue Tornado had a huge 41-22 edge on the boards.
Craig ended the evening with nine points.
Thompson was tops for Cleveland with 24 points. Scott followed with 11 while Cantral Ware, Tatum and Vecchio had nine, eight and seven points, respectively.
Thompson and Scott both had six rebounds for Cleveland while Cantrel Ware had five.
Both teams return to action next Tuesday with Cleveland hosting Soddy Daisy and McCallie also playing at home against North Cobb Christian.
McCALLIE 18 14 16 15 6 -- 69
CLEVELAND 20 12 10 21 3 -- 66
McCALLIE (69) -- Fritz 6, Moxey, Craig 9, Thomas 20, Whitener 6, Alford 7, Baird, Clark, Atkins 14, Lewis 5, McDonald 2.
CLEVELAND (66) -- T. Ware 5, C. Ware 9, Tatum 8, Thompson 24, Scott 11, Brown 2, Vecchio 7, McRee.
3-POINT GOALS: McCallie 4 (Fritz, Craig, Thomas, Alford); Cleveland 11 (T. Ware, Tatum 2, Thompson 6, Scott 2).
(email John Hunt at email@example.com)