Austin-East Ends Brainerd Run Short Of State Berth

Panthers Falls 72-65: Tyner Eliminated By Alcoa

  • Monday, March 4, 2024
  • James Beach

For the past two seasons, Austin-East has been banished to the Sectional road and could not find a compass pointing them in the direction of Murfreesboro, promising seasons each done before the final destination. Roadrunner head coach Denard Bertram was determined to have a contingency plan in case the map to the state tournament this year took them away from the confines of home.

So when a third straight region championship loss last week brought them to Brainerd High School Monday night, Austin-East was finally able to clear the hurdle and collect the program's 23rd state tourney berth, a 72-65 last-man-standing win over a Panther team that had just begun to finds their footing.

"The last two years have been hard on us. Two district runner-ups, two region runner-ups and two losses on the road. We really beefed up our schedule, especially with some tough road environments, to get us ready for this moment tonight. We didn't focus on the end result this year in games, making it all about the process. We learned some lessons, and they paid off tonight," said Bertram.

Of course, it helped having all-state guard Shane Cherry. Especially in an ugly game that saw 54 fouls called and 76 free throws attempted in a game without any rhythm to it. Cherry, despite having an off night shooting, scored 31 points and hit 12 of 14 free throws as the Roadrunners calmly knocked down 24 of 27 freebies in the second half to hold off the Panthers.

"Honestly, there just wasn't much flow to the game for us like we have had the last few weeks. I attribute that some to the stage and the moment tonight, but the fouls hurt us. We had two technicals called on us too that really stole the momentum when we closed the gap twice. They were killers," said Levar Brown, who fell a game short of a seventh state berth in his 10 seasons at the helm.

The Panthers (15-15) started slow, turning the ball over five of their first six possessions and had 15 giveaways at the half. Add to that the fact defensive whiz Kendrick Jones, the man assigned to hunt Cherry, picked p two early fouls, and it was tough sledding on Moore Road.

Brainerd fell behind 13-4 but got it to within 17-15 early in the second period. Anthony Byrd  had five offensive boards in the first half for the Panthers and finished the night with 17 points and 10 boards. Austin-East led at the break 33-24 after scoring the final five points of the half and Cherry had 15 at the break.

Byrd had four of his 10 third quarter points to open the second half and the Panthers appeared poised to get back in it. Byrd put the Panthers on his slim and determined shoulders, and when he drove the lane hard and rose up for a one-handed slam to get the home crowd going.

"That's the first time I've ever seen him dunk, but he said he was going to get one today. That guy emptied his tank tonight. He did not want it to end and he left everything he had on the floor," complimented Brown.

Trea Shaw completed an and 1 shortly after the slam to get back to 37-33, but then the game became foul infested.  Only one bucket was scored over the final 4:10 of the period, as it turned into a free throw contest, one Austin-East clearly won. Cherry hit 11 of 12 in the final four minutes, including a four in a row after he was fouled and technical was called on a Brainerd player who didn't agree with the call. The four freebies made it 41-33 and the Roadrunners wound up connecting on 15 of 16 during the stretch while Brainerd couldn't keep up, making just 11 of its 16 in the same four minute stretch and saw a 55-44 deficit headed into the fourth.

Ashton Munson got three straight finishes at the rim, though, and Shaw nailed a 3 to get back to within 57-53, and with Cherry picking up his fifth foul with 4:15 left, the Panthers were right there. Another technical foul for arguing a call saw Juaan Troutman sink them both, and then the big man got fouled on a make down low to convert the 3-point play, making it a five-point possession and a 64-53 lead.

"With Cherry out, we called a set play to get it down low, and Troutman came up big," said Bertram of the swing. "And then we put the ball in our freshman's hand, and he put it away."

The freshman was Cherry's younger brother, Condus, who finished with 15 points and  hit six of eight free throws in the final minute to just keep the lead safe.

"My boys picked me up tonight. Little brother and big Troutman had my back, but we've been saying since day one, we were making it to state. We were just prepared for the moment," said the older Cherry, who missed 18 of his 27 shots and turned the ball over nine times.

Demarcus Allen added 11 points for the winners who shot 41 percent from the floor (21 of 51) but made 28 of 36 free throws. Brainerd was led by Munson who had 19 on seven of 20 shooting. Byrd added his 17 and Shaw was good for 11 as the Panthers shot 21 of 50 ((42 percent) but made just 25 of 40 free throws.

"Always hard to lose that last one, but I'm proud of the toughness we showed. I've never had a year like this where we lost this many games, but we continued to bounce back. I hate it for our seniors," said Brown.

Alcoa 89, Tyner 53: At Alcoa, the Rams had no defensive answers for the Region 1-AA champs as the Tornado put up 20 or better in each quarter. Jibriel Koko had all 11 of his points in the second quarter and Jahvin Carter had 11 in the first half as Alcoa bolted to a 42-26 halftime lead and Tyner never recovered.

The Rams lost their final two games of the season for the second consecutive year to derail a shot at the state berth ending a once promising season at 24-7. Kohl Ward led the Rams with 17 points and Zion Pinkerton had 15. All-state guard Rodney Henderson was held to 11 points, but all three of the scorers return next season. Carter had 28 for Alcoa and Jamir Dean added 15.



AUSTIN-EAST                    16        17        22        17        --          72

BRAINERD                           10        14        20        21        --          65

AUSTIN-EAST (72) -- T.Brown, D.Brown, Condis Cherry 15, Demarcus Johnson 3, Shane Cherry 31, Bogus, Pruitt, Demarcus Allen 11, Troutman 8, Hundley, Young 4.  

BRAINERD (65) -- Ashton Munson 19, Trea Shaw 11, Ja.Smith 2, Jackson 8, Anthony Byrd 17, Pinkerton, Jo.Smith 2, Fugh, Jones 4.

3-point goals: Austin-East 2 (D.Cherry, S. Cherry); Brainerd 3 (Shaw 2, Jackson).

Records: Austin-East (23-11), Brainerd (15-15).


TYNER                                  15        11        12        15        --          53

ALCOA                                  22        20        24        23        --          89

TYNER (53) -- Smith, Rodney Henderson 11, Zion Pinkerton 12, Brewster 3, Moore, Wilson, Harper 4, Dixson 6, Kohl Ward 17.

ALCOA (89) -- Jibriel Koko 11, Jahvin Carter 28, Grof 3, Haun 3, Moro Ayl 13, Jo.Carter 5, Lanxter, Cannon, Kirk 5, Love, Jamir Dean 15, Owens 5.

3-point goals: Tyner 7 (Ward 3, Dixson 2, Pinkerton, Henderson); Alcoa 8 (Koko 3, Ja.Carter 2, Haun, Ayl, Jo.Carter)

Records: Tyner (24-7); Alcoa (23-13)

(Contact James Beach at

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