Ooltewah’s shoot-around on Friday morning was the first time the Owls had been on a basketball court since Monday.
McMinn County coach Keith Elliott had hoped that would be to the Cherokees’ advantage.
Ooltewah placed four players in double figures, Ron King escaped a scoring drought and the No. 2-seeded Owls whipped McMinn County, 78-58, in the District 5-AAA high school basketball tournament Friday at East Hamilton High School.
“I hoped that three days off and a lot of snow would have cooled them off, but it didn’t,” said Elliott, referring to Hamilton County schools being out since Tuesday due to snowy weather.
Owls coach Andre Montgomery was just glad to survive and advance.
“You could easily have a letdown,” he said. “I told them not to let a (weather) layoff be an excuse. Tonight you either win or pack it up and they came out and responded.”
Hamilton County athletic teams are prohibited from practicing – or playing games – during when schools are not in session and could only get on the court Friday when Rick Smith, the superintendent, gave the go-ahead for the tournament to start.
In other boys’ games, third-seeded Cleveland fought off a strong upset bid by No. 6 East Hamilton to win, 66-64, and No. Walker Valley, which has the best boys record in the tournament, crushed Soddy-Daisy, 89-63, behind a sterling 30-point effort – it included six of the Mustangs’ seven 3-pointers – of guard Brandon Crews.
The second-seed McMinn County girls stopped East Hamilton, 54-38, No. 3 Walker Valley escaped No. 6 Soddy-Daisy’s ambush, 55-53, and No. 4 Cleveland crushed Ooltewah, 68-33.
Friday’s winners advanced to Saturday’s semifinals.
McMinn County and Walker Valley play at 3 p.m. in the first girls’ semifinals and Bradley clashes with crosstown rival Cleveland at 4:30.
In the boys’ showdowns, Ooltewah plays Cleveland at 6 and Bradley takes on Walker Valley at 7:30.
Leading the scoring parade for the Owls (15-9) was Boyd with 20 points. Jaymcal Johnson had 19, Ben Snider 16 and King finished with 14.
“Balance is what we’re about,” Montgomery said. “Ben has been leading us pretty consistently and he took the same amount of shots he usually takes. Tonight the other guys were making some shots and scoring to help him out.”
Brian Armstrong led seventh-seed McMinn County (3-22) with 14 points and Stephen Cruze added 11.
The Cherokees, who have lost three times to the Owls by an average margin of 24 points, used an offense that Bradley Central utilized with great success against the Owls early on – spread the floor and beat defenders off the dribble.
McMinn County made seven first-quarter baskets and all but one – Corey Edgemon’s short baseline jumper – came off driving layups.
The Owls’ man-to-man defense tightened up a bit – Montgomery eventually switched to a 3-2 zone. Ooltewah also went on a 9-0 run over the final 2:26 of the opening period to wipe out the Cherokees’ 14-13 lead. King drove the base line for a layup and hit two free throws in that run.
“We had to change things defensively,” Boyd said. “We weren’t staying in front of the ball, so we went to the zone and were able to do that.”
Ooltewah led by 33-24 when King connected from the right wing ahead of a bucket by Armstrong. Then Johnson drove the lane for a layup, Snider hit a jumper from the wing and King drained a 3-pointer from the right corner to give the Owls a 43-26 halftime lead.
“(King) really stabbed us in that run,” Elliott said. “That really hurt. He shot the ball real well and sure came out of whatever slump he was in.”
King, a senior, said he’s been bothered by tendonitis in his knees and that has hampered his leaping ability and knocks his shots slightly off the mark.
He was on target early against the Cherokees, scoring 11 points in the first half.
“I felt like I could get back up (jump) and do what I was doing early in the season offensively,” King said.
The Cherokees outscored the Owls 6-2 – Armstrong hit a jumper and layup and Jaylon Martin added a basket – to cut their deficit to 45-32, but Ooltewah went on another patented quick-strike runs, this one 15-2, and put the game out of reach at 60-34 with 1:15 left in the third quarter.
Boyd got a tough rebound and putback and a tip-in in that run.
“I thought I did a good job, but everyone was playing really well,” Boyd said. “It feels good to win the first game. We can build on this win, gain some confidence and try to win this thing.”
Snider, the team’s senior leader, wanted to talk more about Boyd than himself.
“He played amazing,” Snider said. “He’s a young guy who has a tremendous heart. We got at it hard in every practice. He’s a great player.”
Ooltewah led 65-45 after Snider’s layup and a pair of free throws from Boyd. The difference was 71-50 after Snider’s fastbreak layup and four free throws – two each by reserve players Miles Cothran and Thomas Williams – gave the Owls a 24-point bulge with 69 nine seconds left.
“When the game is 10 points or so, I think we have a chance most of the time,” Elliott said. “When it gets beyond that we just don’t have the firepower offensively to come back.”
Cleveland 66, East Hamilton 64: The Blue Raiders, who trailed the Hurricanes 50-39 with just over two minutes left in the third quarter, hit the Hurricanes with some quick-strike buckets and quickly got back in the game.
Cantrel Ware, who finished with 16 points, scored six to trigger a 12-0 run that carried over to TyQwon Ware’s floater with 7:13 left in the fourth quarter – that gave Cleveland a 51-50 lead.
The Blue Raiders (16-7) eventually extended the run to 21-7 – the Hurricanes’ James Wright have five points in that stretch – when Cantrel Ware hit a 3 and added a bucket to give Cleveland a 60-57 advantage.
East Hamilton’s Kenny Bunton, who scored 17 points, and Ware exchanged free throws and Cleveland’s Kendrick Thompson – he led all scorers with 21 points – dropped in two freebies to push the lead to 63-58.
Bunton hit a shot off the glass and followed that with a turnaround jumper to pull the Hurricanes (6-21) to within 63-62 with 27.8 seconds left.
Ware’s three free throws sandwiched driving layup for the final 66-64 victory.
“When we were down by 11 points I told the kids to calm down, there’s still a long way to go,” Cleveland coach Jason McCowan said. “We changed from man pressure to zone pressure and that helped us defensively. We forced some things and finally got ahead.
“I always believe you play better with a lead than from behind. “We got the lead and were more comfortable.
Said East Hamilton coach Michael Stone: “I thought we had them. We got the lead with some defensive stops and I thought we frustrated Kendrick Thompson in the third quarter (he scored just four points) and we got some easy baskets.
“But they closed the gap real quick. I assure you we didn’t feel real safe with that 11-point lead.”
Tracy Thompson scored 13 points for East Hamilton and James Wright added 12.
Walker Valley 89, Soddy-Daisy 63: The Mustangs (19-9) “Crews-ed” past the Trojans (11-14). The 6-foot-2-inch senior was scoring from every angle and any spot on the floor.
“He’s hard to guard,” Mustangs coach Bob Williams said. “Brandon has great range and can shoot the deep 3s. If you come up on him he can drive past you. It’s hard to decide how to defend him.”
Crews didn’t score in spurts, but consistently drove daggers in the Trojans’ heart the entire game. Crews had 14 points at halftime and added 16 after the break – he had three 3-pointers in each half.
Walker Valley inside threats – Austin Harwood and Lukas Korn – scored 13 and 12 points, respectively, and that action inside makes it easier for Crews to do his thing on the perimeter.
“You have to pick your poison defensively against us,” Williams said. “It’s hard to game plan us when we’ve got three guys scoring.”
Walker Valley girls 55, Soddy-Daisy 53: The Lady Trojans (6-20) trailed 20-12 at halftime, but started lighting up the favored Lady Mustangs (18-10) from the perimeter in a 26-point third quarter.
Soddy-Daisy hit five 3-pointers – three by Shana Ward – and carried a 38-32 lead into the final period.
Jaclyn Griffith scored nine points and Peyton Davis made two of her four 3s in the quarter to rally the Lady Mustangs to the narrow win.
Davis finished with 16 points, Kathleen Alomar had 14 and Griffith scored 11.
Hannah Harris and Ward each scored 12 for the Lady Trojans.
McMinn County girls 54, East Hamilton 38: The No. 2 seed Lady Cherokees (10-16) got another solid performance from their “Big Three” while dismantling the Lady Hurricanes (4-21).
Rachel Burke scored a game-high 16 points, Rachel Simbeck had 12 and KeKe Smith 10.
McMinn County outscored East Hamilton, 39-13, in the second half.
Lexi Zackary led the Lady Hurricanes with 11 points.
Cleveland 68, Ooltewah 33: Nora Berry poured in 22 points and Jenna Scoggins scored 21 for the Lady Raiders (13-12).
Cleveland held the Lady Owls (5-15) to single-digit scoring in three of the four quarters and led 29-19 at halftime.
Reghan Jones scored 10 points for East Hamilton.
“We were both in the same boat all week with no practice,” Lady Blue Raiders coach Mindy Kiser said. “I felt if we could stick in there and keep our noses to the grindstone we were going to be all right.”
McMinn County 14 12 16 16 – 58
Ooltewah 22 21 18 17 – 78
McMinn County (58) – Rob Claxton 11, Hammons 2, Martin 7, Marshall 1, Edgeman 4, Spradling 9, Brian Armstrong 14, Brown 5, Lawson 3, Simpson 2.
Ooltewah (78) – Jamycal Johnson 19, Jarek Boyd 20, Ron King 14, Ben Snider 16, Montgomery 4, Ross, Freeman, Williams 3, Jones, Ross, Cothran 2.
3-Point Goals – McMinn County 5 (Spradling 2, Brown, Lawson, Armstrong), Ooltewah 4 (Johnson 2, King 2).
East Hamilton 12 21 17 14 – 64
Cleveland 9 21 19 17 – 66
East Hamilton (64) – Tracy Thompson 13, Deontae Jackson, Lowery 4, Sparks 8, Kenny Bunton 17, Chacko, James Wright 12, Wingard 2, Griffith 2, Brower 6, Beach.
Cleveland () – T. Ware 4, Cantrel Ware 16, Tatum 2, Kendrick Thompson 21, Beaty 8, Brown 6, Vecchio 2, Dennard 4, Gibson 3.
3-Point Goals – East Hamilton 7 (Thompson 2, Bunton 2, Wright 2, Brower), Cleveland 8 (Thompson 4, Brown 2, Gibson, C. Ware).
Soddy-Daisy 9 17 13 24 -- 63
Walker Valley 22 13 25 29 -- 89
Soddy-Daisy (63) – Amos 3, Tucker Landreth 10, Carter 6, Andy Wright 15, Jeffries 5, James York 19, Floyd 5, Whymer.
Walker Valley (89) – L. Melton, Austin Harwood 13, Lukas Korn 12, Brandon Crews 30, Dustin Swafford 13, Herd, Morrow 2, Jones 2, Williams 4, Bryce Nunnelly 11, C. Melton, Montgomery, Conway, B. Swafford 2.
3-Point Goals – Soddy-Daisy 4 (Wright 2, York, Floyd), Walker Valley 7 (Crews 6, Nunnelly).
Ooltewah 4 15 6 7 -- 33
Cleveland 12 17 16 23 – 68
Ooltewah (33) – Cain, Taylor, Cooper 2, A. Jones 3, H. Hall, Baker, Thompson 9, Reed 1, Corley, Reghan Jones 10, Henderson, Cox 8.
Cleveland (68) – Nora Berry 22, Ware 8, Jenna Scoggins 21, Burton 2, Crump, Walkup 3, Morman, Phillips, Person 9, McClendon 3.
3-Point Goals – Ooltewah none, Cleveland 7 (Berry 4, Ware, Scoggins, Walkup).
East Hamilton 6 11 14 7 – 38
McMinn County 18 10 15 11 -- 54
East Hamilton (38) – Pettit, Woods 5, Caudle 5, Stovall 9, Howard 5, Denton 2, Lexi Zackary 11, Black, Zeh 1.
McMinn County (54) – Carnett, Wilson 7, Rachel Simbeck 12, Rachel Burke 16, Maddron 3, Dispensa 3, Kelley 2, Montgomery, Thompson, Sliger, KeKe Smith 10, Robinson 6,
3-Point Goals – East Hamilton 3 (Zackary 2, Woods), McMinn County 4 (Wilson 2, Smith 2).
Soddy-Daisy 10 2 26 15 – 53
Walker Valley 10 10 12 23 – 55
Soddy-Daisy (53) – Hannah Harris 12, Hale 5, Hopkins 3, Smith 7, King 5, Shana Ward 12, Phillips 5, Hancock 2.
Walker Valley (55) – Jones 5, Macon 7, Spann 2, Jaclyn Griffith 11, Kathleen Alomar 14, Peyton Davis 16, Mowery 2
3-Point Goals – Soddy-Daisy 7 (King 4, Harris, Hale, Phillips), Walker Valley 7 (Davis 4, Jones, Macon, Griffith, Alomar).
Seeds In Parenthesis)
3 – McMinn County (2) vs. Walker Valley (3)
4:30 – Bradley Central (1) vs. Cleveland (4)
6 – Ooltewah (2) vs. Cleveland (3)
7:30 – Bradley Central (1) vs. Walker Valley (4)
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)