CLEVELAND, Tenn. – After one quarter, Cleveland needed to get junior workhorse Dionte Ware “involved” in the offense during Tuesday’s District 5-3A tournament championship game against Walker Valley.
After scoring zero first-quarter points, Ware showed some life with six points in the second period, but he wasn’t yet weaponized.
At halftime, Cleveland coaches addressed the problem of a still sluggish Ware looking on as the rest of the Blue Raiders breezed to a commanding 34-17 lead.
“It was funny,” coach Jason McCowan said. “Coach (Reggie) Tucker said we needed to get Dionte rolling. We were doing so much offensively and defensively, I wasn’t even aware Dionte wasn’t doing a lot of scoring. So, we started running some stuff and he dominated on the glass and took good shots.”
Ware was Walker Valley’s worst nightmare after halftime while turning in a superlative offensive performance with a game-high 25 points – in one stretch the scored 19 of Cleveland’s 23 points and left to a wild celebration after scoring his 1,000th point in the Blue Raiders’ dominating 81-36 victory that produced the school’s second straight tournament championship.
“When we came out after halftime, coach told me I needed 19 to reach a thousand points,” said Ware, a junior, who along with Diontae Davis and Romeo Wykle, represented Cleveland on the all-tournament team. “So, I gave it all I had.”
In the boys’ third-place game, East Hamilton stormed past McMinn County, 81-71, as senior Vandrele Wilson provided a spark off the bench with 21 points.
Cleveland (22-4) will host Cookeville (22-8), the No. 4 team from District 6-3A in the Region 3-3A tournament on Saturday. Walker Valley (12-15) is at home against Warren County (22-7).
East Hamilton (22-7) goes to White County (13-18) and McMinn County (10-17) travels to Crossville to play 6-3A champion Stone Memorial.
All first-round region games start at 7 p.m. local time, as mandated by the TSSAA.
Ware came to life in the second period by hitting a floater and layup to pushed the Blue Raiders’ lead to 24-9. Cleveland closed the quarter on a 13-2 run that included back-to-back 3-pointers by Deontae Davis, his only points of the game, and the Mustangs were down 37-14.
Little did the Mustangs know the worst was yet to come.
Mullek Bradford made a layup and Romeo Wykle knocked down a 3 and Jacobi Wood, who scored 18 points, 13 coming in the first half when he took the Raiders by the horn and stampeded Walker Valley, drilled a 3 from the right corner and Cleveland’s cushion was 45-16.
Ware then scored 12 straight points – he made a 3, converted a three-point play and dropped in a reverse layup, tipped in a goal and followed his own miss for a put-back and Cleveland was ready to pop the champagne, well, maybe some root beer they were so close to nailing down another tournament title.
Wood scored again, Isaiah Johnson got a steal and drove for a layup to end in the quarter with Cleveland on top 63-24.
Ware still needed five points to reach 1,000.
Twenty-nine seconds into the fourth, Ware made a high-arcing 3 from the right wing and then capped his brilliant effort with a layup. Cleveland immediately called a timeout and Ware was mobbed by teammates on the sideline for an in-unison salutation huddle. Players were jumping up and down and fans gave Ware a rousing ovation as icing on the cake.
“It was an amazing run, scoring 19 out of 23 points,” Ware said. “We want to keep this thing rolling. We jumped on Walker Valley hard, but we practiced for 3-and-a-half hours (Monday) and we came over here ready to play.”
Cleveland’s defense stymied Walker Valley’s top two players – Kolten Gibson and Jordan Munck. Munck managed just three points and Gibson 2, both buckets coming in the second quarter.
Wykle finished with 11 points that included three 3s and all his scoring came in the first three quarters.
Neither team used starters after the timeout, which came with 7:02 left.
“There is no question we’re led by Romeo Wykle and when our team takes on his personality we’re pretty tough to beat,” McCowan said. “I thought we delivered a heavy punch early and had them on their heels. This is a great bunch to be around every day and this (second straight title) is the fruit of their labor.”
East Hamilton 81, McMinn County 71: The Hurricanes, trying to return to the state tournament for a second straight time, trailed 18-11 after one quarter, but closed the second period on a 15-4 run to grab a 32-27 halftime advantage.
DaVae Hughley started the rally with back-to-back layups and Wilson closed it with a fastbreak layup and a right-wing 3.
In the third period, Wilson continued his torrid shooting, making three straight 3s and the Hurricanes were up 51-38.
“We put a lot on Vandrele coming off the bench,” coach Zach Roddenberry said. “He’s our little spark plug. He gave us some energy we desperately needed; we were dead.
“We’ve got some really good seniors and he’s right at the top of the list, but all of them can’t start, but I thought he did a fanstastic job.”
Said Wilson: “I saw that we started off a little bad. I wanted to bring some energy on defense and that led to some easy offense when we got to running. Offensively, when I hit my first 3 that got me going and I felt good on every shot I took after that.”
With less than a minute left in the quarter, a Hurricane player was called for a foul and seconds later Roddenberry was slapped with a technical.
McMinn’s Nelan Evans and Jake Elkins each made one free throw, but that was all the Cherokees got out of a potential seven-point possession. When Taurean Jones dropped a layup, McMinn was within 59-51 and had stolen some of the Hurricanes’ momentum early in the final period.
Justin Dozier, the regular season player of the year, tossed in a layup and Cameron Montgomery made one of his two field goals in the game, pushing the lead to 63-51.
Wilson’s fifth 3 of the game gave the Canes a 69-55 cushion. Dozier made 3-of-4 free throws around Jones’ tip-in and the Tribe trailed 72-57. Jones and East Hamilton’s Drew Williams exchanged layups.
McMinn then outscored East Hamilton 7-1 and cut the Canes’ lead to 75-67. Williams countered with a dunk and Jones drained a 3. Sam Hammonds connected once from the free-throw line and East Hamilton had a 77-71 lead with 19 seconds left.
Morrell Schramm, who scored all five of his points in the fourth quarter, made two free throws and Wilson made a pair with 6.3 seconds remaining for the final margin of victory, which was East Hamilton’s fifth straight against McMinn County.
Senior DaVae Hughley, who scored 19 points, credited Wilson with supply a punch off the bench the team needed.
“When we’re down mentally and aren’t playing with energy, I know it’s time for Vandrele to get off that bench,” Hughley said. “He comes in and gets the whole team going.”
Williams and Dozier, each scored 13 points for the Hurricanes.
Jones scored a game-high 28 points for the Cherokees while Elkins added 16 and Landon Williams 11.
NOTE: Bradley Central basketball historian Gary Ownbey has gone back and re-tabulated every game Rhyne Howard has played for the Bearettes and corrected the Kentucky signee’s career scoring total.
After Monday’s tournament championship victory over East Hamilton, Howard had 2,350 career points. The re-check of her scoring now puts the total up slightly at 2,369 and she remains in sixth place on the Bearettes’ all-time scoring list.
Howard trails No. 5 Brittany Jackson’s 2,439 by 70 points.
Walker Valley 5 9 10 13 – 36
Cleveland 17 20 24 18 – 81
Walker Valley (36) – Munck 3, Zeke Westfield 10, K. Gibson 2, Davis 2, Wallace, Duprey 2, Valenzuela 2, Cooper, Campbell 6, Pendergrass, Bunton 2, Smith 2, B. Gibson 5.
Cleveland (81) – Romeo Wykle 11, Johnson 2, Bradford 4, Jacobi Wood 18, Hurst 4, Lay, Dionte Ware 25, Patterson 3, Davis 6, McGowan 2, Howard 2, Black 4.
3-Point Goals – Walker Valley 3 (Munck 1, Campbell 1, B. Gibson 1), Cleveland 10 (Wykle 3, Wood 2, Ware 2, Davis 2, Patterson 1).
McMinn County 18 9 22 21 – 71
East Hamilton 11 21 27 24 – 81
McMinn County (71) – Evans 9, Hammonds 6, Landon Williams 11, Runyan, Taurean Jones 28, Sharp, Jake Elkins 16, Buckner.
East Hamilton (81) – Vandrele Wilson 21, Drew Williams 13, Montgomery 4, DaVae Hughley 19, S. Randolph 6, Justin Dozier 13, D. Randolph, Johnson, Schramm 5.
3-Point Goals – McMinn County 8 (Elkins 5, Jones 2, Williams 1), East Hamilton 6 (Wilson 5, Hughley 1).
Cleveland – Dionte Ware, Deontae Davis, Romeo Wykle
Walker Valley – Kolten Gibson, Jordan Munck, Zeke Westfield
East Hamilton – Justin Dozier, DaVae Hughley
McMinn County – Taurean Jones, Jake Elkins
Ooltewah – Cam Chambers
Soddy-Daisy – Josh Perez
Bradley Central – Tray Curry
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)