Cleveland, riding a 21-game winning streak and in its first TSSAA boys’ state basketball tournament in 14 years, will be severely tested in the Class 3A quarterfinals on March 14. The Blue Raiders (29-4) drew three-time defending champion Memphis East at 11:30 CST at Middle Tennessee State University.
The Blue Raiders will be making their fourth appearance in the state tourney in Murfreesboro, the first since 2005.
Cleveland won a state championship in 1997 and made its first trip to state in 1989.
“I’ve said all along when you get to a certain point everybody is going to have a good team,” Cleveland coach Jason McCowan said in a telephone from Dallas, Texas. “You can’t, nor do you want to avoid anybody in the state tournament. Our kids have talked about, saying, ‘What if we draw Memphis East.’ They’re ready to be on the biggest (high school) basketball stage in our state.”
McCowan was in Dallas to attend a meeting of the Flippen Group, the No. 1 educational training group in the country. There will be almost 6,000 students at the event on Wednesday for an event called Lead Worthy Lives.
“I’m here helping with the event with students that take classes like my Leadership Classes at Cleveland High School,” he said. “I’ve been teaching that class for eight-plus years. Flip Flippen, who owns the Flippen Group, spoke at our high school two years ago.”
In McCowan’s absence, assistant coach Reggie Tucker and represented Cleveland at the TSSAA draw on Tuesday. Karen Hall, a teacher and scorekeeper for both the boys’ and girls’ basketball team, face-timed the “whole thing to me in Dallas,” McCowan said.
“We’re gathering film and scouting reports on Memphis East and getting ready to get back into things on Thursday,” the coach said. “We gave the kids off Tuesday and Wednesday. I’m scheduled to get back home at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday night.
“I’ve gotten so much support from the school and community since (Monday) night. I had over 200 text messages and talked with a lot of great friends. Right now, it’s still kind of surreal. It will hit us all when we get back on the floor for practice, and we’ll go over film and breakdown East then.”
In the lower bracket with the Blue Raiders, Oakland (24-5) takes on Brentwood (26-8) at 10 a.m. Thursday. Oakland defeated East Hamilton, 61-59, in Monday’s Sectional showdown.
On Wednesday, Sevier County (25-6) plays Whitehaven (24-7) at 4:30 p.m. and Bearden (29-5) squares off against Franklin (28-6) at 6 p.m. Those teams are in the Class 3A upper bracket.
Two Chattanooga Class 2A teams will play on Wednesday, part of a four-game 2A card on the opening at the Murphy Center.
Howard (25-8) plays East Nashville (26-6) at 10 a.m. and Brainerd (22-10) tangles with Pearl Cohn (20-10) at 2:45 p.m.
The tournament runs through March 16 when all three championship games on tap.
Cleveland coach Jason McCowan, Cleveland’s all-time winningest coach with a 239-107 record after taking over from Aaron Green for the 2007-08 season, took his third and fourth teams to the Sectional and lost to Columbia and Siegel, respectively.
McCowan’s next seven squads lost in the regional tournament before this season. Cleveland beat East Hamilton for the District 5-3A and Region 3-3A tournament titles. The Blue Raiders beat Blackman, 49-42, Monday night in the Sectional before 3,000 fans at Raider Arena to set off a state tournament-bound celebration in the 3-year-old high school basketball palace.
Cleveland’s 29 wins tie the second-most in a season in school history. The 1968-69 Fred Stewart Blue Raiders – his tenure lasted just two years – won 27 straight games to open the season and finished at 29-2.
In 1996-97, Vincent Yarbrough, who went on to play at Tennessee, led Cleveland to its only state championship and posted a school-best 33-2 record. The Blue Raiders defeated Brainerd, in the title game and Yarbrough scored 27 points on 9-of-11 shooting and 9-of-10 at the free-throw line. He also had 16 rebounds.
Brainerd’s Harris Walker led all scorers with 34 points on 12-of-26 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds. Walker went 10 for 15 at the free-throw line.
State Tournament Pairings
At Middle Tennessee State University
Class 3A Quarterfinals
Wednesday, March 13
Sevier County vs. Whitehaven, 4:30 p.m.
Bearden vs. Franklin, 6 p.m.
Thursday, March 14
Oakland vs. Brentwood, 10 a.m.
Cleveland vs. Memphis East, 11:30 a.m.
Wednesday, March 13
Howard vs. East Nashville, 10 a.m.
Mitchell vs. Knox Fulton, 11:30 a.m.
Wooddale vs. Austin-East, 1:15 p.m.
Brainerd vs. Pearl Cohn, 2:45 p.m.
Friday, March 15
Saturday, March 16
All Times CST
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)