If Cleveland’s Blue Raiders proved anything Thursday night, it was that a District 5-3A blowout victory against East Hamilton back in December was not a fluke.
The Blue Raiders, putting an exclamation point on their perfect 12-0 run through league play with another dominating performance, walloped the Hurricanes, 83-65, in a game that wasn’t in doubt for very long.
Cleveland, which is 23-1 in league play the last two seasons, rolled to a 40-30 halftime advantage and steadily extended the lead with a 43-point second half. Coach Jason McCowan’s squad went into the final period with a 63-47 cushion and rendered the outcome as a formality.
The only Blue Raider loss in the impressive regular-season run was a 78-77 loss to East Hamilton on Feb. 3, 2017 at Cleveland, when Cameron Montgomery hit two free throws with 2.2 seconds left.
“As a coach you want to win them all,” Cleveland coach Jason McCowan said. “We went on the road tonight against a great team that had the league MVP (Justin Dozier), but we feel like we’ve got some good players too. Once we got into our speed game with them – I think these two teams play faster than anyone else in the district -- we started making some plays and turning defense into offense.”
Dozier, a superb talent that helped the Hurricanes reach their first state tournament last season, was held to four points, two field goals in the first.
“I thought Isaiah Johnson did a whale of a job on Dozier and he’s a load,” McCowan said. “And they can also give you problems because they’ve got some bigs inside.”
The Blue Raiders (20-3, 12-0), who have won 18 of their last 19 games, close out the regular season at Bearden on Feb. 12 and then turn their attention to the postseason and a bid to capture their second straight district tournament title.
“Cleveland had an extraordinary shooting night,” East Hamilton coach Zach Roddenberry said. “They really got hot and probably could have put a manager into the game who could have knocked down some 3s. We focused all week and hoping to make them play a half-court game, but we didn’t execute the way we wanted.”
East Hamilton (19-6, 7-3) still has a strong shot to claim the boys’ tourney No. 2 seed by winning one of its final two games against Ooltewah (Friday) and McMinn County (Monday), both at home.
The Hurricanes are 1-3 since off-the-court turmoil caused a coaching shuffle: Rodney English is gone and Roddenberry is finishing out the season as interim coach.
“We’ve got the tournament coming up, but before we get there we have to take care of business in our last two games. We have to do better than we did tonight.”
Dionte Ware, one of five Raiders to make the All-District 5-3A regular-season team, powered the Raiders’ offense with 24 points, 13 coming in the second half. Mullek Bradford had 18 points, Deontae Davis scored 17 and Jacobi Wood added 10 and all three players earned all-district honors as well. The fifth player on the team picked by coaches was Romeo Wykle and he scored four points.
The Hurricanes were led by Andrew Williams and Cameron Montgomery with 14 points each. DaVae Hughley scored 12 points and Morrell Schramm added 10.
Nursing a 44-35 lead early in the third quarter, Ware hit a jumper, added a 3-pointer and Davis, the terribly good flat-footed bomber from the perimeter with a hankering for any shot near either sideline, drained a 3 and all of a sudden Cleveland had a 52-35 advantage.
As the period wound down, the teams exchanged four straight 3s and the Blue Raiders were in control with a 17-point spread.
While Cleveland lost is marquee player in KK Curry, who transferred to a private school in Connecticut before school started, McCowan returned four starters.
The Blue Raiders rolled up their sleeves and got to work, with McCowan pinning a lot of trust on the shoulders of five seniors – Wykle, Bradford, Davis, Josh Black and Alex “Paco” Patterson.
“The kids in front of us are the ones we go to battle each and every night,” the coach said. “I wasn’t going to say don’t go to sleep on us because I was glad to sneak up on some people. We’re not going to slip up on anybody now because we’ve got some really good kids who are ultimately led by those five seniors every day. Sprinkle in Ware, Jacobi and Isaiah and other guys and that’s a pretty solid team.”
Cleveland girls 49, East Hamilton 48: Cleveland got a free throw from Bailey Anderson with 6.2 seconds left in overtime – she scored only four points – to give the Lady Raiders the victory over the Lady Hurricanes.
The Lady Raiders have to thank senior Emma Flowers, who is better known for her volleyball skills, for getting the game to overtime.
Flowers, an all-district selection, scored eight straight points to start the final quarter and dropped in a baseline jumper and short bank shot off the glass to tie the game at 40-all. When the smoke cleared, Flowers had scored 12 of Cleveland’s 16 fourth-quarter points.
It was Joy Douglass’ two free throws that gave Cleveland its first lead at 42-40 at the 1:48 mark. East Hamilton’s Kaiyanna Suttles’ put-back tied the game with 69 seconds showing.
“Cleveland did a good job and (Flowers) dominated play in the fourth quarter,” East Hamilton coach Hunter Gremore said. “In regulation the game was tied, we had the ball and turned it over. We did the same thing in overtime, but you have to give Cleveland credit. They came up with a great play, their girl hit the free throw and won the game.”
In overtime, sophomore Madison Hayes, an all-district pick, hit two free throws. Cleveland’s Madison Dasher, also an all-district performer, hit a 3. Hayes countered with a 3. DeZah Lacy, the Lady Canes’ other all-league player, made one free throw.
With East Hamilton senior Maleiah Moon writhing on the floor in pain from an apparent serious knee injury, Dasher tied the game at 48-48 with a 3 with 30.7 seconds left. Then, with just 6.2 seconds on the clock, Anderson missed the first free throw, but made the second. When Hayes’ final jumper missed everything the Lady Raiders started celebrating.
“Maleiah’s injury looks bad,” Gremore said. “It probably is the same injury she suffered last year, just the opposite knee, and she’s likely to miss her second straight postseason, and that’s tough.
“We just didn’t execute down the stretch.”
East Hamilton (21-4, 6-4) still has a clear path to grabbing the girls’ No. 2 seed for the tournament and if they defeat Ooltewah (Friday) and McMinn County (Monday), the Lady Canes can accomplish that goal.
A sweep of those games would give the Lady Canes and Lady Raiders identical 8-4 league records and East Hamilton won the tie-breaker in a coin toss at the district meeting on Wednesday.
If East Hamilton beats Ooltewah and loses to McMinn County, it could wind up fourth and Cleveland would open the tournament in the No. 2 slot.
Flowers and Madison Dasher each scored 15 points for the Lady Raiders (15-10, 8-4)
Hayes had 19 points and Lacy scored 13 for the Lady Canes.
Cleveland 11 8 7 16 7 – 49
East Hamilton 16 10 8 8 6 – 48
Cleveland (49) – Reed 8, Goodman, Madison Dasher 15, Franklin, Langford, Williams 3, Emma Flowers 15, Douglass 4, Callahan, Droke, Anderson 4.
East Hamilton (48) – Moon 6, DeZah Lacy 13, Suttles 7, Madison Hayes 19, Zeh 3, Abernathy, Laboo.
3-Point Goals – Cleveland 5 (Dasher 4, Williams 1), East Hamilton 8 (Lacy 3, Hayes 3, Moon 2).
Cleveland 23 11 23 20 – 83
East Hamilton 17 13 17 18 – 65
Cleveland (83) – Wykle 4, Johnson 3, Mullek Bradford 18, Jacobi Wood 10, Hurst, Colbaugh, Lay, Dionte Ware 24, Patterson 3, Deontae Davis 17, McGowan, Howard, Burke, Black 4.
East Hamilton (65) – Wilson, Andrew Williams 14, Cameron Montgomery 14, Paisley, DaVae Hughley 12, S. Randolph 8, Rogers, Dozier 4, D. Randolph 3, Johnson, Hammett, Morrell Schramm 10, Crawford.
3-Point Goals – Cleveland 9 (Davis 3, Bradford 2, Ware 2, Johnson 1, Patterson 1), East Hamilton 5 (Montgomery 2, Schramm 2, D. Randolph 1).
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)