Nearly everything that could’ve gone wrong in the fourth quarter of Cherokee Bluff’s Friday night contest against East Hall did. The visiting Bears watched a 15-point lead evaporate, missed several crucial free throws and committed a couple of key turnovers late to the delight of the Vikings’ crowd.
But when it mattered most, the road team had just enough left in the tank to steal the win.
TJ Campbell’s contested shot attempt with two seconds to go came up just a little short, and the Bears escaped with a 63-62 edge of the Vikings in Gainesville.
“We’ve been talking about perseverance and growing up, not only as players but as young men,” Bears coach Benjie Wood said. “And they just stuck together. Even when we were missing free throws and what not, they still stuck together.”
Griffin Neville scored 20 points and grabbed a pair of steals to lead Cherokee Bluff (13-8, 4-4 Region 7-3A) to its fifth win in the last seven games. Jayvion Rucker scored all 19 of his points in the second half as the Vikings (10-11, 5-4) battled back from a 14-point halftime deficit.
Rucker even reached 1,000 career points with a tip-in with five and 1/2 minutes remaining. But the senior forward’s magical night was not enough to overcome Cherokee Bluff’s calculated game plan.
“We’ve just been preparing for the past week,” Neville said. “We didn’t have a game Tuesday, so we’ve been preparing, preparing, preparing. We knew everything they were doing.”
East Hall jumped out to a quick 6-2 lead, but it was all Bears for the remainder of the first half. Cherokee Bluff put together a 13-4 run through the middle of the opening frame to take a narrow lead after eight minutes.
In the second quarter, things got even better for the visiting Bears.
After a pair of quick makes from Bosko Norman and Corey Thomas, Neville converted one steal into an easy layup and another into a deep 3 to extend the Cherokee Bluff lead. The Bears outscored the Vikings 20-8 in the quarter to take a comfortable lead going into halftime.
The teams battled back and forth for the entirety of the third period, with Cherokee Bluff managing to push its lead to 15 thanks to a make from Neville with two seconds remaining.
But at the start of the fourth quarter, a switch appeared to flip for East Hall.
Rucker slammed home a dunk 20 seconds in, then grabbed a steal and scored a minute later. Meanwhile, the Vikings played tough defense, holding Cherokee Bluff to just four points over the first six minutes of the quarter.
A Campbell trey at the two-minute mark made it a two-point game, and a Curry 3-pointer with 30 seconds to go cut the lead to 63-62 — a score that would hold.
The Bears had opportunities to buy some breathing room with trips to the charity stripe from Neville and Thomas, but the players went 0 for 4 to keep the Vikings alive. But it was all for naught for East Hall, as the hosts could not find the offense it needed to wrestle back the lead.
“Our kids have prepared all week,” Wood said. “We worked hard. I told them in the end, even though everything was going wrong, we deserved to win because they prepared all week. Our kids deserved that.”
CHEROKEE BLUFF GIRLS 59, EAST HALL 31: The Lady Bears poured in seven 3-pointers in the first period, and the game was far out of reach for the host Lady Vikings.
Timber Gaither scored eight of her team-leading 19 points in the opening frame — connecting on a pair of 3-pointers — in the dominant Cherokee Bluff (11-10, 2-6 Region 7-3A) victory.
“We came out knocking down some shots, and that’s always helpful,” Lady Bears coach Lindsay Justice said. “It makes my job easier when we can knock down shots like that.”
Audrey Griffin’s eight points were the most by any Lady Viking (8-14, 2-7) player on the night.
Cherokee Bluff led 28-4 after the first quarter and did not let up from there. East Hall did manage to cut the lead to 21 at halftime, but a 15-3 advantage in the third quarter put the game away for the Lady Bears.
“We’ve had a really good week of practice, and we’ve really been focused on communication and playing together and just talking more and being energetic and enthusiastic,” Justice said. “I think that create camaraderie on the floor. It just makes it more fun to play basketball when they’re doing that. So they brought that same energy to the game today. I was really proud of them.”