Even with a perfect 16-0 record, Blue Raiders' senior point guard JaCobi Wood feels his team hasn't reached its full potential. That could be bad news for the rest of the region.
Wood's 12 consecutive points in third quarter was the catalyst top-ranked Cleveland (4-0 District 5-3A) was looking for in a 71-56 district win over East Hamilton (8-9, 2-3) Friday. The Belmont University signee finished the run with a long-distance 3-pointer and an NBA-like move to the hoop for a left-handed layup that helped build a 56-37 cushion.
The Lady Raiders picked up a huge, 61-52 double overtime win over the rival Lady Hurricanes to open varsity play in the Raider Arena.
“I knew we needed to get on a run. I got us going on the first bucket. My teammates picked it up and kept feeding me. My teammates trust me and I trust them. It's a bond we have. When somebody is doing good, we keep feeding them. That's what they did,” said Wood, who finished with a game-high 24 points.
“I know I haven't reached my full potential yet. As a team, we just keep getting better and better. On our off days — we don't have off days — I'm just doing all I can to make my brothers proud. As a family, we just all work together.”
Senior guard Morrell Schramm put the Raiders' No. 1-ranking in perspective saying is it just a number until the team plays to full potential, and the only way to get there is to play as they do in practice.
“We don't really worry about the No. 1 spot, it's January. We haven't done anything. The No. 1 spot doesn't mean anything to us. We're not going to change our work ethic or the way we approach the game. We will still prepare for the game and practice hard to get where we want to go,” said Schramm, who ended his night with 19 points against the team he played for the last three seasons.
“We compete really hard at practice. It's the most competitive thing I've ever done. It's the most competitive team I've seen. That's how we approach the game. We play in practice like we would in a game. We haven't even played (in a game) like we do in practice. We haven't reached our full potential yet.”
First-year Blue Raider head coach Reggie Tucker said he was pleased with the way his team played together, particularly after what he felt was a sub-par effort Tuesday against Soddy-Daisy.
“We cleaned some things up. Take away some careless turnovers, second-chance opportunities and some offensive rebounds and we win by 20 plus,” he said. "Our effort was great. We moved the ball. Grant (Hurst) made a couple of shots early and they got to playing off him. We were moving because they were chasing him around. It was a lot better effort, no question.”
The junior guard hit back-to-back 3s from the left side in the first quarter and closed out the first half with a 3 at the buzzer from the left corner that put the Raiders out front 35-23.
“I just try to stay confident all the time. Sometimes it's hard when things don't go your way,” said Hurst, who finished with 21 points and four 3s. “I feel like our team as a whole can do as much as we are capable of. It's totally up to us. The only people who can stop us is ourselves. We've been training hard since early August. We have kept it up. It's January now and we're pushing forward every single day. We're looking forward to making an (state tournament) appearance in March. We've got to keep it up to sustain that.”
“That was probably his best shooting night,” Tucker said.
Tucker credits team play for the Raider's current success and used East Hamilton's obsession with Hurst to Cleveland's advantage.
“We changed a few things and made a few adjustments (at halftime). I knew they were going to chase Grant around. I told the coaches we were just going to spread the floor,” explained the coach.
“What makes us dangerous is we have so many kids who are interchangeable. Any given night Grant can go for 20, Kley (McGowan) can go for 20 and 'Kobi' (Wood) has scored 50 on two occasions. 'Mo' (Schramm) leads in double-doubles. Every night it's someone different.”
McGowan also leads the team in charges taken. The junior guard has racked up more than 40 in the last two seasons.
“We are not 16-0 without our effort defensively. At the end of the day 'Kobi' might score 50; but if we're rotating, if we're not guarding, if we're not getting around the floor, if we're not doing those things defensively, we're not 16-0,” said Tucker.
LADY RAIDERS 61,
LADY HURRICANES 52
For four quarters, district rivals Cleveland and East Hamilton slugged it out like heavyweights looking to knock one another out. But, it took an extra eight minutes before the Lady Raiders (12-5, 3-1 District 5-3A) could finally win the battle with a decision over the Lady Hurricanes (10-10, 3-2).
“I'm going to start off by giving God the glory. We're a faith-based team. We play for an audience of one and we had extra in the tank tonight. I believe it's because we believe in each other and love each other,” said a happy Lady Raider head coach Tony Williams.
“I looked them in the eye and told them we have to be tougher than them. It's not about execution from this point forward, it's about being tougher. It's about being physical. It's about being mentally tough and being locked in. I told them if they do that, they were going to come out on top.
“It was back-and-forth. I don't know what the largest separation was from start to finish. It was a game you love to coach. It was a game you love to play in and it was definitely a game the fans love to watch,” he declared.
Even a laser-like pass from Kara Williams to Bailey Anderson that wound up in a layup to put the Lady Raiders out front 46-44 with six seconds left in regulation could not seal the deal.
The reigning Ms. Tennessee Basketball, Madison Hayes, took the inbound pass and raced the length of the court, twisting through the lane between Lady Raider defenders, to put in the game-tying two points at the buzzer.
“Madison Hayes is a phenomenal player. They are well coached. She requires so much attention and any time you don't execute, she makes you pay,” Williams said of the Mississippi State signee, who scored all eight of her team's points in the fourth quarter.
Hayes left the game in the second overtime, picking up her fifth foul with 3:25 left on the clock. It was the turning point for the Lady Raiders who took advantage of the missing star, who exited with 20 points.
“It was like taking Michael Jordan off the Bulls, Kobi Bryant off the Lakers or LeBron James off the Lakers,” Williams compared. “When sharks smell blood, we really felt like that was our blood moment when she went out of the game. We turned up our pressure.”
The Lady Raiders were unable to take advantage of three East Hamilton turnovers in the first overtime, that ended with neither team finding the basket.
Overtime No. 2 saw Bailey Anderson with an impressive fake pass that ended in a score to put Cleveland up 48-46. Seconds later, Anderson set Kara Williams up for her fifth 3 of the game, that put the Lady Raiders out front 51-46 with 2:23 left. East Hamilton retaliated with a trey to cut the lead back to two points, 51-49, with 2:12 left.
From there it was a matter of free throws for the Lady Raiders, who sealed the win hitting 8-of-10 from the line. The Lady 'Canes went to the stripe five times and made good on three shots before time expired.
“We had a chance to put away the game in regulation. If we just walk up there and make two free throws twice. In overtime Bailey walked up there and made two. Kara walked up there and made two and Mariyah made several in the overtime periods. That's money time,” said a happy Coach Williams.
The younger Williams ended her night with a team-leading 20 points. Person finished with 16 and Anderson reached double figures with 12.
Williams pulled his starters as the clock wound down as a reward for the supporting Lady Raiders.
“Those were two really good teams. I think top 15 teams in the state. They (East Hamilton) are the best 10-10 team in the state. I would put them up against anybody," assessed Coach Williams, who directed the Lady Hurricane program before coming to CHS 4 1/2 years ago.
"I can't say enough about our kids' grit. We got some contributions tonight. Defensively, Alexia Jackson and Brenna Droke were amazing. Offensively, Bailey Anderson, Kara Williams and Mariyah Person and Megan Rouse (were outstanding). Megan can step out and shoot the ball. She buried two big 3s tonight. I'm just super proud of our kids. I can't put into words what this feels like after all the work we put in.”
at Raider Arena
LADY RAIDERS 61, LADY HURRICANES 52 (2 OT)
East Hamilton 11 9 18 8 0 6 — 52
Cleveland 14 8 16 8 0 15 — 61
LADY HURRICANES (52) — Madison Hayes 20, Eliziah Labdo 12, Evans 3, Lacy 7, Copeland, McK. Hayes 7, Bone, Petitt 3.
LADY RAIDERS (61) — Kara Williams 20, Mariyah Person 16, Bailey Anderson 12, Hurst, Moody, Rouse 6, Jackson, Chestnutt 2, Droke 5, Alvarado.
3-point goals: EH n/a; Cleveland 9 (Williams 5, Person 2, Rouse 2).
Free Throws: EH n/a; Cleveland 16-of-22.
Records: East Hamilton 10-10, 3-2 District 5-3A; Cleveland 3-1, 11-5 District 5-3A.
BLUE RAIDERS 71, HURRICANES 56
East Hamilton 12 11 14 9 — 56
Cleveland 20 15 21 15 — 71
HURRICANES (56) — Haynes Eller 15, Darwin Randolph 14, Marcus Long 14, Shropshire 6, Caudle, Pendleton, Rogers, Harris 7.
BLUE RAIDERS (71) — JaCobi Wood 26, Grant Hurst 21, Morrell Schramm 17, Dale, Whaley, Kley McGowan 7.
3-point goals: East Hamiton 3 (Eller); Cleveland 9 (Hurst 4, Schramm 2, Wood 2, McCowan).
Free throws: East Hamilton 1-of-3; Cleveland 10-of-12.
Records: East Hamilton 8-9, 2-3 District 5-3A; Cleveland 16-0, 4-0 District 5-3A.