East upsets Cherokee in D2-AAA tournament
Morristown East’s Matt Thompson is fouled in the closing seconds of Monday’s District 2-AAA touranment opener against Cherokee at Jefferson County High School. Thompson hit a free throw to give the Hurricanes a 45-44 win.
DANDRIDGE — Morristown East has been on the wrong side of games like this too many times this season. All but two of the Hurricanes’ District 2-AAA losses have been by less than an average of four points. Monday night at Jefferson County High School, the boys from East finally put it all together to eliminate Cherokee in the District 2-AAA Tournament in a hotly contested four-quarter battle, 45-44.
“We’ve been in a bunch of close games and we finally did what we needed to do at the end to win it,” East coach Dag Berquist said. “It wasn’t very pretty, but my guys believe in each other and they keep fighting. I kept telling them that sooner or later the ball was going to bounce our way.”
The victory for the Hurricanes (4-22) sets up a rematch with cross-town rival Morristown West (13-12) Wednesday night. For Cherokee (10-20), the loss ends a rare losing season for a Chiefs program that won 20 or more games three seasons in a row before this year.
The offensive production that the Chiefs needed wasn’t there early. Morristown East charged out to a 12-5 lead in the opening period with Chris Snapp and Aaron Smith both hitting 3-pointers to get the Hurricanes rolling.
Cherokee missed its share of free throws, especially in the first half. The Chiefs went 12-for-21 in the game, with 7 of their 9 misses coming in the first half. Cherokee and Morristown East went into the half tied 20-20, but the Chiefs had left a lot of free points on the court.
“You can only look at things at the end of the game that you had direct control over,” Cherokee coach Jeremy Parrott said. “That (free throws) is a thing we had direct control over and just couldn’t pull it off. To see it end like that for this group of kids is tough.”
Cherokee cooled down enough in the third period for East to take a 3-point lead. Guard Matt Thompson used his speed to consistently burst down the floor and weave his way through defenders. Thompson scored nine of his 22 points in the third period, When Thompson wasn’t scoring, he was drawing fouls, finishing 8-of-12 from the free throw line.
“Free throws and defense in close games are going to be a deciding factor,” Berquist said. “They missed enough to keep us in the game. We survive and advance. Lesser teams would have folded up the tent a long time ago. We just kept battling.”
Thompson did most of the work in the fourth, with help from Smith, Jordan Seal and Adam Killian. Smith finished with 9 points. Seal had 8.
In the fourth Cherokee got a big 3-pointer from Teagan Trent and, with less than 15 seconds to go, tied the game on free throws from Tanner Trent. With less than four seconds to go, Thompson got free for East and was fouled on his way to the basket. Thompson hit his second foul-shot, giving the Hurricanes the victory.
“It hinged on making a play and they made it,” Parrott said. “We had less time at the end to make one of our own.”
South Doyle 41, Seymour 32
In the early game, the Cherokees (7-19) set up a date Wednesday with Cocke County (16-11) by recording a 9-point win over Seymour in the opening game of the tournament.
Austin Arrington scored 17 points for Seymour, but didn’t get a lot of help from his teammates. Only three other Eagles (12-15) put points on the scoreboard, with Gunner Gibson and Clayton Ogle scoring 6 apiece. Eight Seymour players saw significant minutes with no points to show for them.
South Doyle got a team effort, with seven Cherokees getting in on the action. Malik Lundy was the only South Doyle player in double figures with 11, but Miles Thomas had 9 points and Brody Rollins scored 8.
The Cherokees’ defense held Seymour to just two points in the opening period. Despite a lackluster offensive outing of their own, South Doyle still took a 17-12 lead into halftime and was able to hold on to it for the rest of the game.
The Cherokees won in spite of finishing 8-of-19 at the free throw line.
-By Adam Greene, Tribune Correspondent