The slow start for the Cherokee Bluff didn’t last long during Tuesday’s season opener and first game in school history.
Despite trailing Lanier Christian Academy for much of the opening period, the Bears turned things around to take the 89-54 win. Cherokee Bluff coach Benjie Wood said he was happy with the result, but still believes his team has quite a bit of progress to make.
“We didn’t really come out and play with the type of intensity that we expect,” Wood said. “They did a good job at attacking us, but our kids finally settled down and played basketball.”
The Bears were led by a pair of junior guards in Griffin Neville and Bosko Norman, who scored 27 and 23 points respectively.
And while Cherokee Bluff eventually got the best of them, the Lightning certainly came into the game with more urgency, out-hustling the Bears in the opening quarter and building an early lead behind a 13-point run halfway through the period. After the first eight minutes, Cherokee Bluff trailed 22-14.
As the team huddled around Wood during the short break between frames, his advice was simple.
“Do your job,” he said.
Those words got through to at least one Bears player.
After the teams exchanged a couple baskets to start the second quarter, Norman hit on an acrobatic layup while being fouled, converting the free throw to complete the three-point play. He went on to score 15 of the next 17 Cherokee Bluff points while picking up a pair of steals.
Norman finished his run off with an emphatic dunk, causing the student section at the opposite end of the gym to erupt in cheers.
“I think it just builds in me,” Norman said. “I just don’t like losing, and if you show that, then the team will kind of build on that. As we got those layups and stuff, we started igniting.”
Not even a footwear malfunction could slow Norman down, as he lost a shoe while running back down the court after making a bucket and grabbed a steal on one foot in transition defense.
“I think it’s these ankle braces I wear,” he said. “I’m slipping out of my shoes. But I got a steal with it, so I’m fine.”
The Bears backed up Norman’s offense with much improved defense, holding Lanier Christian to only eight points in the second quarter, and carrying a 43-30 lead into halftime. When they came back out, it was Neville’s turn to get hot.
After struggling to find his shot in the first half, Neville hit on his first two attempts of the third quarter to quickly build on the Cherokee Bluff lead. He accounted for seven of the Bears’ 10 field goals in the third quarter — including a trio of three-pointers — compiling 17 points and pushing the lead to 21 points entering the final frame.
With the game well under control, the Bears managed to cruise through the final quarter, finishing off the 89-54 win and going to 1-0 to start off their inaugural basketball season.
“It really means a lot to the community,” Norman said of the win. “Hopefully they come to more games and see us win some more games. It’s going to be a show this year.”
CHEROKEE BLUFF GIRLS 71, LANIER CHRISTIAN 19: While the boys team took a quarter to settle into its game against Lanier Christian Academy, the girls team jumped all over the Lady Lightning in their contest to open the night. The Lady Bears scored all 29 first-quarter points.
Cherokee Bluff was led by freshman Timber Gaither, who scored 21 points, and senior Chelsea Reece who put in 10 along with a handful of steals.
“I think it was good for us to have this game to get some confidence and get a good feel for the game,” Cherokee Bluff coach Lindsay Justice said. “I was able to get everybody in, which is a positive thing for everybody to kind of see how that feels to be in their first basketball game. So for that, it was good. But we still have a lot of things that we need to clean up and get better at.”