At the beginning of the festivities at Cleveland High School Friday night, there were two teams yet to suffer a loss in the Two Rivers 3A Conference. At the end of the night, only one was left standing with an unblemished league mark.
The Cleveland girls basketball team weathered a frenetic Triton barrage to open the game that saw the Hawks jump out to a 13-point lead. The Rams (18-2 overall, 6-0 Two Rivers) buckled down and went to work, however, in grinding out a 58-50 win to remain unbeaten in the Two Rivers, two games ahead of and two games in hand over the Hawks (11-6, 4-2).
In the boys game, Cleveland (8-12, 3-3) clamped down on defense and tightened the race in the Two Rivers ever so slightly with an important 50-45 over Triton, which dealt the Hawks their first loss in conference play and moved the Rams to within two games of the league leaders.
Strong finish cancels out slow start for Rams
For the second game in a row, the Cleveland girls basketball team started out slowly and was forced to dig itself out of a hole. That hole was made quickly for the Rams as Triton came out with a full-court press that caught the Rams off-guard and the Hawks stormed out to a 13-0 lead within the opening four minutes of the contest.
Cleveland began to get itself back into the game as it began to attack the press and get easy baskets off of doing so.
A key stretch late in the second quarter helped the Rams tie the game at 30-30 by halftime as first Miranda Hinton hit a three-pointer and then Courtney McGregor hit a pair of threes on three consecutive possessions.
“It was definitely something that propelled us forward and got us hyped up,” McGregor said of the perimeter shots dropping in quick succession. “It’s really critical in those times to make those shots that you need to make just so you can get everybody ready to go.”
The Rams defense then took over the rest of the way as Triton made only two field goals in the game’s final 16 minutes and settled instead for points at the foul line for much of that duration.
Fortunately for the Rams, the Hawks made less than 50% of their charity shots for the game (21-43). Cleveland point guard Miranda Hinton took over in the fourth quarter, going 8-of-10 from the foul line to seal the victory
“Once again, we see that if we just keep playing, something good is going to happen,” Cleveland coach Chris Danehower said. “We’re doing a good job finishing games, now we’ve got to start one stronger. Maybe we’re just a little complacent right now so we just need to get better.”
Myrayna Watkins had a double double for the Rams with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Tehya Lee had 11 points and seven rebounds, McGregor added nine points on 3-of-8 shooting from behind the arc and Morgan Stapleton came off the bench to help bolster the Cleveland halfcourt defense.
Je’nae Harvey led Triton with 17 points and Tarica Worley had a monster performance: 12 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks.
As for the Rams, Hinton hopes the week’s pair of come-from-behind wins over Corinth Holders and Triton will spark more of a sense of urgency for the team in the season’s final few weeks.
“It’s going to make us move faster,” said Hinton. “Usually we’ll set up at halfcourt but now we’re running, we’re running and we’re going. Now we’re going to have a press breaker, we’re going to press more and we’re going to get it together.”
Cleveland boys gaining momentum
Having lost two overtime contests and four games by three points or less, it was just a matter of time before the Cleveland boys basketball team found a way to pull out a win in a close battle.
The winning formula in the Rams’ 50-45 win over Triton (10-8, 5-1) Friday night was simple: solid defense, having the rebounding advantage and hitting foul shots in the fourth quarter.
Cleveland held Triton to six points in the second quarter and just seven more in the third quarter as the Rams built a 12-point lead heading into the final period.
The Hawks trimmed the lead to 44-43 with two minutes to go but Tanner Costine, Tonio Mayo and Jaylyn Pearce combined to go 6-of-7 the rest of the way from the foul line to fend off the league leaders.
“I told the kids that we’d lost some close games but eventually, if we play in them, we’d have to learn how to win them, Cleveland coach John Jacobs said. “We finally made some free throws down the stretch.”
Pearce led the Rams with 14 points and seven rebounds, Costine had 10 points and Caleb Howard came off the bench with eight points and eight rebounds.
Chrishawn Henry and Shiquan Cox paved the way for the Hawks with 15 and 10 points, respectively.
After beginning the season 1-5, the Rams have won three of their last four games and look to be playing their best basketball of the season.
“It felt great; we’ve turned our season around,” Pearce said. “Everybody knows their roles so it’s a cohesive unit. I feel pretty good about this team going forward in the conference.”