Most high school basketball players have two speeds, and they are usually only in control of one. Meanwhile, McCallie’s Eric Rivers has thrice that amount, is an expert in each, and used every single one to close out a relatively close 55-45 win over host Chattanooga Christian School.
With his team ahead 44-37 midway through the fourth quarter, Rivers used his acceleration to speed past his slower teammates on a promising CCS fastbreak. He didn’t stop until he caught up with the ballhandler, who he chased down for a block from behind.
When McCallie next got the ball, he slowed down and danced with his defender, found space, and one-two stepped his way into an and-one layup.
“He’s just a special player, and he’s one of the best players in the state,” coach David Conrady said. “It’s not like he had his best game tonight, but he was still by far the best player on the floor, and that’s what we needed him to be.”
Chattanooga Christian’s Chargers more than held their own in the game, and even went into the second quarter tied with the Blue Tornado. CCS essentially neutralized McCallie’s 7’1 pivot David Craig by having guard Deion Lewis assigned as the nominal “center.” Lewis parked himself in the right corner for most of the game and nailed five threes for a CCS-high 15 points. This drew Craig out on defense, and his inconstant finishing inside meant the undersized Chargers survived in his minutes.
CCS’ Tink Scott and Boo Carter both hit contested three-pointers, and simultaneously stymied McCallie’s dribble-drive game on the other end of the floor. CCS played a 2-3 or 3-2 zone for the entire game, and McCallie’s Rivers and Will Kwasigroch could not break down CCS’ shell early on. CCS’ guards had a much easier time driving into the lane, often using a simple ballscreen to get all the way to the basket before kicking it out for an open shot. The Chargers were snipers from distance, connecting on ten treys in total.
Rivers had much more success in the second quarter and netted six points, mostly using the open court to give him lanes that did not exist in a halfcourt setting. Meanwhile, Lewis continued to make a sagging Blue Tornado defense pay, and their defense remained stout against a more confident McCallie offense. Boo Carter had maybe the play of the night when he met a driving McCallie guard at the summit and sent back what should have been an easy layup.
“You gotta credit CCS,” coach Conrady said. “They played hard, got after us, and I don’t’ know if I did a great job of getting us ready to play. It took a while to figure out how to play against them. They’re hard to guard and they have some really good players.”
Trailing by a mere three points (19-22) at halftime, the game had the makings of a classic. Unfortunately for the home fans, McCallie began to assert themselves inside the paint. Although he only scored a couple points, inside forward Spencer Turner’s decisive drives from the elbow and free throw line forced the Chargers to defend something that wasn’t just a pure dribble-drive from the perimeter.
Meanwhile, McCallie shuffled through several defenses in the second half. On one possession they would align themselves in a Syracuse 2-3, while on another the Blue Tornado would play straight up man to man. The next time down the floor would be a 2-1-2, and then the following possession would be a Ray Mears-esque 1-3-1.
“We tried to find something that might work to guard them and keep them off balance,” coach Conrady said. “I’m proud of our guys, because they made us hang in there.”
Although CCS had some success garnering open shots against these multiple looks, McCallie was able to force enough turnovers to get their offense going in semi-transition. The Blue Tornado led 37-29 at the end of three, and just needed to focus on maintaining the margin in the final eight minutes.
And that’s exactly what they did. Every time Lewis or fellow sharpshooter Parker Graham would bury a shot from the corners or the wing, Rivers always seemed to have an answer in the form of a contorting, swooping layup through traffic. Rivers scored 10 of his game-high 23 in the fourth and made four of his five free throws when given a chance to shoot them. McCallie closed out 55-45 win, but coach Conrady said there is much room for improvement.
“We’ve just got to keep getting better,” coach Conrady said. “The league is so good and we’re going to have to keep getting better, and if we can guard a little bit, then we have a chance.”
McCALLIE 10 12 15 18 -- 55
CHATT CHRISTIAN 10 09 10 16 -- 45
McCALLIE (55) –
Turner 2, Eric Rivers 23, Kwasigroch 1, Rankin 6, Claridy 4, Patel, Wiley, Hamilton 5, Jackson, Elliott 6, Sizemore, Craig 8.
CHATTANOOGA CHRISTIAN (45) –
Jacks 00, Lewis 15, Hilger, Eng 3, Carter 10, Stimart, Graham 6, Scott 11, Hall, Turner, Patrick.
: McCallie 3 (Rivers, Claridy, Hamilton); CCS 10 (Lewis 5, Graham 2, Eng, Carter, Scott).
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