Riverdale and East Hamilton each came into Monday’s Class 3A sectional basketball showdown with one state tournament appearance.
The two teams fought evenly throughout the game in front of a boisterous, partisan crowd before Elijah Cobb’s two free throws broke a 43-43 tie with 55.8 seconds left and the Warriors went on to win, 50-45, earning their second state tourney berth three decades after the first one.
“We just made some history by winning this game,” Cobb said.
“This feels good and I hope we can do good in the state tournament.”
It was a tough loss for the Hurricanes, who went through a coaching shuffle in January – Rodney English was suspended and eventually resigned (he returned to his teaching position at East Hamilton last Wednesday) and assistant Zach Roddenberry took over as interim coach.
“It hurts,” said senior DaVae Hughley, the Region 3-3A tournament MVP who was held to seven points and just two in the second half. “I didn’t show up when my team needed me and that was a big part of it because I didn’t answer the bell and we lost.”
East Hamilton's Lady Hurricanes also ended their season with a 78-38 loss on Saturday to the top-ranked and once-beaten Riverdale Lady Warriors
The draw for the boys’ state tournament will be held Tuesday at Murphy Center on the Middle Tennessee State University campus at 5 p.m. (CT).
“Once we know who we’re going to play, we’ll get to work right away and get ready for the state tournament,” Riverdale coach Michael Voss said.
Riverdale, which opened in 1972, has lost in district and region early-round games every season from 2001-02 to 2015-16 when Voss became the head coach. The Warriors lost to Stewarts Creek in the 2016 District 7 semifinals and to Blackman in the Region 4 semifinals in 2017 and 2018.
The Warriors reached the 1986 state tournament and beat Morristown West and then lost to eventual state champion Westwood.
“I had absolutely nothing to do with the first state tournament, but this feels great,” Voss said. “When I got here three years ago that was our goal. We were going to find a way to get to the state tournament. We’ve done a good job getting better every year.
“I’ve got one senior and eight juniors that contribute a lot and three sophomores that help us quite a bit, and that’s the core of who we are. A lot of it is that we’re more talented than teams we’ve had in the past. Talent is what makes these guys go.”
Don’t be fooled by Monday’s low scoring game. The Warriors beat Mt. Juliet and LaVergne by scoring 41 points. They turned back Siegel with 45 points and beat LaVergne and defeated Father Ryan with 47. Their season-low was 37 points in a loss to Blackman in this season’s Region 4-3A title game.
“Tonight, we just came in here to play our hardest and scored as many points as we could,” said Cobb, who scored 13 of his game-high 17 points in the second half.
Riverdale’s half-court defense helped slow down the usually fast-paced Hurricanes, who have relied on big morale-busting scoring runs to take down opponents.
The Canes had a 6-1 run in the second quarter and 6-2 spree in the third period, and everything else came hard due to Riverdale’s inside stalwarts – 7-foot Brayden Sivan and the 6-7 Cobb – slamming the lane shut when East Hamilton players drove to the rim.
“They’re a spurt team,” Voss said, “so you don’t want to let them run. They’ve relied on 6-0, 8-0 or 10-0 like runs all year. You want to control the tempo on them and we do that on the defensive end of the floor. We’re not going to get out there and press teams because, quite frankly, we’re not very good at pressing. What we are good at is with a half-court man-to-man with some zone mixed in to slow people down.”
Said Dozier on trying to drive the lane, “They were very hard to deal with inside.”
Neither mini-run East Hamilton made failed to produce a lead. The second-period spurt, capped by one of Vandrele Wilson’s two 3-pointers, pulled the Canes to within 16-15. The third-period spurt – Cam Montgomery started it with two free throws and a 3 and Justin Dozier ended it with two free throws – closed the deficit to 36-35.
Nine seconds after Dozier’s free-throw tosses, Cobb scored on an extended scoop and Dozier hit a left-wing 3 to tie the game at 38-38 going to the fourth quarter.
“East Hamilton didn’t get much penetration in our zone, but they torched us shooting the ball against the zone,” Voss said. “Cobb and Sivan can make things very difficult in the lane trying to finish over them and East Hamilton may not have faced that problem until tonight.”
After Cobb’s charity tosses, Dozier lost the handle on a dribble and the Warriors’ Mallik McAllister jumped on the ball and quickly called timeout before an East Hamilton player could tie up for a jump ball.
Four seconds later, Rashaad Thompson hit two free throws and Riverdale had a 47-43 advantage with 22 seconds on the clock.
McAllister made 1 of 2 free throws at the 7.1-second mark and after Montgomery stepped on the baseline trying for a rebound, Cobb hit two free throws for the final points.
East Hamilton (25-8), which had won four in a row coming into the game, got its next-to-last field goal on a Williams lane floater with 5:22 left in the game that gave the Hurricanes a 43-41 lead.
Williams also made the final bucket, a layup, to pull the Canes, who were trying for their second straight state tourney berth after going for the first time in 2017, to within 47-45 with 10.4 seconds on the clock.
The Warriors (26-7) had broken a 38-38 tie on Cobb’s floater and Vandrele Wilson drained a 3 from the left corner to give East Hamilton its first lead since Wilson’s shot from the same spot with 5:50 left in the second quarter.
Cobb paced the Warriors, who were coming off six straight losing records, with 17 points. Sivan, a 7-foot post, finished with eight points, six coming in the second period and blocked several shots.
Montgomery led the Hurricanes, who tied a school record (2016-17) for wins in a season, with 13 points and Williams added 10 points, five in the first quarter.
“Losing this game hurts, especially being a senior and losing a close game like that,” Dozier said. “It’s very hard.”
Riverdale 14 12 12 12 – 50
East Hamilton 9 14 15 7 – 45
Riverdale (50) – Morrow, Rollings 2, Elijah Cobb 17, Perry 9, Thompson 6, McAllister 3, Whittington, Brogden Sivan 13.
East Hamilton (45) – Wilson 6, Drew Williams 10, Cam Montgomery 13, Hughley 7, S. Randolph, Schramm, Dozier 9, Walker.
3-Point Goals – Riverdale 1 (Perry), East Hamilton 7 (Montgomery 2, Wilson 2, Hughley 1, Dozier 1, Williams 1).
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)