DANDRIDGE—Freshman Kyle Cloninger grabbed a deflected inbounds pass and put it in the basket as the horn sounded to give Morristown East a thrilling 56-54 triumph over host Jefferson County Friday night.
The Patriots’ Kawika Makua, who kept his team in the game with 15 fourth-quarter points, made a three-pointer to knot the score at 54-54 and the clock ran down to 0.3 as East took a time out.
After the clock was reset to 2.2, football quarterback Cole Henson had another completion as he hit Braden Ilic just past midcourt and the Hurricanes got another time out with 1.3 remaining.
Coach Alden Collins said the final play was set up for Ilic to catch and shoot but there were two defenders on him and he leaped and deflected the ball to Cloninger who somehow managed to get it into the basket for the game winner.
Cloninger was the last-second hero but it was Micah Simpson who kept East in the game all night as he poured in 34 points including 16 in the third quarter when East erased a 10-point halftime deficit. Cloninger finished with 11.
Ilic scored only six points with all of them coming at the free throw line but went over the 1,000 mark for his career as he now has 1,003.
Makua finished with 17 and Kobe Parker added 11 for the Patriots.
It was the eighth straight victory for the Hurricanes who are now 12-3 for the season and 5-0 in the Inter Mountain Conference including one covid win. The Patriots fell to 9-10 overall and 3-2 in the league.
“We set up the final shot for Braden down low on the back side,” explained Collins. “It was to get the touch and get whatever shot he could get. But he has great vision and then tipped the ball over to Kyle who put it in. It was a great effort on both of their parts.”
Collins continued, “Micah was phenomenal on both ends of the court tonight. He created turnovers on the defensive end and hit shot after shot on the offensive end tonight. His third quarter was unreal. Two of those threes were from way behind the line.
“We got down in the first half when we missed a lot of shots we should have made but we came back with a lot more intensity after halftime,” said the coach. “This is a tough place to play and it was a win against another really good team. I thought Jefferson County came out and played with a lot of confidence in the first half.
“I thought their point guard (Makua) really stepped up for them in the fourth quarter and brought them back after we got a little bit of a lead. But we made the play at the end. It’s really nice to come down here and get out with a win especially after the first half we had.”
Patriots coach Matt Johnson said, ““This was a really tough loss to take. But there are a lot of positives to take away from it, especially how our kids battled back in the fourth quarter and got back into the game.”
When asked what East was able to do in the second half that they couldn’t in the first half, Johnson replied, “Well they had opportunities in the first half but missed a lot of shots. In the third quarter, we had some turnovers and they started hitting shots. They didn’t do anything different, just started making shots.”
The coach said he felt his team did a good job defensively against Ilic. “He scored 34 down here last year and we knew we had to do a better job this time and we did. But Simpson played really well for them and scored a lot.
“I thought Kawika did a great job offensively in the fourth quarter and he hit a really big three to tie it at the end.”
The big third quarter was really the difference for the ‘Canes. Down by 28-18 entering the period, East nearly equaled its first half output with a 26-9 scoring bulge. Cloninger started the run with a layup off a pass from Ilic before Simpson popped in a triple.
But Parker gunned in a three of his own and the Patriots led 31-23 with 6:40 on the clock. That’s when the ‘Canes ran off 16 straight points to grab their biggest lead of the game at 39-31. Simpson gunned in a bucket, two more three’s and two free throws in the spurt.
Ilic, who didn’t score in the first half, also reached and passed the 1,000 mark by hitting two charity tosses with 3:07 left in the quarter.
Bowman hit a couple of baskets for the Patriots to cut the deficit to four and that was still the margin when Simpson hit a basket and another foul shot to put East in front 44-37 at the last rest stop.
But Makua scored seven points in the first four minutes of the fourth while East was getting just a pair of free throws from Simpson to chop the margin down to two. Simpson and Jacob Thompson traded a pair of free throws before Cloninger hit one for the Hurricanes for a 49=46 lead with 2:32 to play.
After Makua scored again, Simpson drained a long, long three and the lead was 52-48 with 2:01 on the clock. But Makua wasn’t through scoring as he made two free throws with 1:52 to play and hit another at the 1:17 mark. Ilic made it a three-point game with two more free throws before Makua hit a three from the top of the circle to tie it and set the stage for the finish.
East shot under 30 percent in the first half and finished at 36.2 by making 17 of 47. The ‘Canes were 5 of 16 from three-point range. The Patriots connected on 20 of 46 from the floor for 43.4 percent and made 8 of 19 behind the arc.
Both teams had 33 rebounds with Ilic raking down 10 for East and Bowman grabbing the same number for the Patriots.
Five different players scored as the home team grabbed a 12-7 lead after one quarter with Simpson scoring all the East points. The Patriots hit three treys in the second stanza and led by as many as 13 at 25-12 on their way to the big halftime lead.