GREENEVILLE, Tenn. — After watching an 11-point fourth quarter lead disappear in just over two minutes, the Claiborne Bulldogs went 9-for-10 from the free throw line down the stretch to pull out a 52-48 win over Cumberland Gap in the first round of the District 2-AA Tournament on Saturday.
Triston Noe led the way with 24 points, including an 11-for-12 effort from the charity stripe. Noe hit both ends of the bonus with 2:32 to play to put the Bulldogs back on top, 47-46. He made four more free throws in the final 20 seconds to seal the win. Noe also finished with a game-high 10 rebounds.
“Triston played a very good game, did a very good job on defense. He hit some big shots and it all goes back to those free throws,” Claiborne coach Michael Brooks said. “We’ve lost several close games this year and in all of them we’ve not made our free throws. It comes down to the little things and we did that tonight. We stepped up and made them — you’ve got to this time of year.”
Claiborne also got 12 points from Shawn Logan, six from Alex Reece and five each from Nick Roberts and Paul Estep.
Adam Jenkins scored 14 points and Jordan Bullins 13 to lead Cumberland Gap. The Panthers also got seven points from Gavin Burns, six from Bryce Sutton and four each from Hunter Bayless and Austin Anderson.
Both teams came out the gates hot. Claiborne made their first four shots from the field — including 3-pointers from Reece, Logan and Noe. Meanwhile, the Panthers recorded three steals and grabbed seven offensive rebounds in the first quarter. A 3 from Burns put Cumberland Gap up 15-11. Bullins then followed another Reese 3 with a putback and then a 17-foot jumper that made it 19-14 with 1:30 to go in the period.
Estep’s trey, Claiborne’s fifth of the quarter, pulled the Bulldogs within two going into the second.
Baskets from Sutton and Anderson gave the Panthers their biggest lead of the night at 23-17, but they would go scoreless over the final 6:15 of the half.
“We came out and punched them in the mouth early. We outworked them and got those offensive rebounds, you could tell it kind of caught them off guard,” Cumberland Gap coach Ernie Clawson said. “Then in the second quarter we scored four points. We couldn’t throw it in the ocean and our energy level was very low. We couldn’t sustain that energy and I think that played a huge part. We’ve talked about it before, we can’t afford to have bad quarters or we get beat.”
Noe scored nine points over a 14-0 Bulldog run and Roberts hit a 3 from the top of the key to end the second quarter with Claiborne on top 31-23.
“People don’t understand how big it is to have somebody come out and make that first shot. We’re the world’s worst to get stagnant if we don’t hit that first shot off the bat. Alex hit the first one and it sparked us, after that it kind of snowballed,” Brooks said. “Shawn stepped up and made a couple of shots, Nick made that shot at the end of the half I thought was big. It was a good all-around effort.”
The teams traded points for most of the third quarter with the Bulldog lead hovering between six and ten points. Logan’s putback had Claiborne up 42-32 after three.
One free throw by Noe pushed the lead to eleven early in the fourth quarter. But the Panthers responded by going on a 14-0 run of their own. Cumberland Gap forced five turnovers over a 1:45 stretch and Bullins and Jenkins scored five points each during the spurt. Two free throws from Bayless gave the Panthers a 44-43 lead and Jenkins drove in for a layup after a steal to make it 46-43 with 5:00 to play.
“I can’t say enough about their effort. We got in a little lull there with no energy. I had a little come to Jesus meeting with them and they responded to it. Our press gave them some problems,” Clawson said. “I’m proud of these kids. I know we came up a bit short, but it was not for a lack of effort.”
Cumberland Gap went cold from there. They missed their next four shots from the field, turned the ball over twice and missed the front end of the bonus on two separate occasions. The Panthers wouldn’t score again until Bullins hit two free throws with 9.8 seconds left.
“We had a bad second quarter and then we worked our guts out to try to get back in the game. We did that, came back and took the lead by three. We just couldn’t make plays down the stretch,” Clawson added. “We missed two front ends of the one-and-one. That’s been our Achilles’ heel all season, free throw shooting. If we make four free throws, who knows, we may be coming out winners.”
Claiborne got two free throws from Estep to pull within a point and Noe put the Bulldogs ahead to stay with his two freebies at the 2:32 mark and they went on to the four-point win.
“We came out a little bit flat (in the third quarter) but all the credit goes to them in that second half. They didn’t quit, they kept coming. We just weathered the storm and took their punches and I’m proud of my kids for that,” said Brooks. “Hat’s off to Cumberland Gap, they fought hard there. That was tournament basketball.”
Cumberland Gap made 20 of 49 shots in the game, including 4-of-12 from 3-point range. They made just four of eight free throws. The Panthers won the turnover battle 15-10 and the teams were pretty even in rebounding with Claiborne pulling down 29 boards to Cumberland Gap’s 26.
The Bulldogs won despite not making a field goal in the fourth quarter. For the game they hit just 15 of 41 shots from the field, including 8-of-19 from long range. The big difference was at the free throw line where Claiborne hit 14 of 16.
Claiborne (14-14) advances to play top-seeded Greeneville in Monday’s 8:30 p.m. semifinal
“I feel good about it. We’ve got a day off (Sunday) and we’ll practice a little bit. We’ve got Greeneville Monday night, the kids are looking forward to it. We played them close both games and we’ll just come back here and see what happens,” Brooks said.
Cumberland Gap finishes the season with a record of 11-15.
“This was a rebuilding year and I knew it coming in. We had kids that were inexperienced. I thought toward the end of the year we would be playing our best basketball, and to an extent we were,” Clawson said. “There was still a lot of inconsistencies and a lot of mental mistakes in crucial situations. Those are things that we’ve got to be better at next year and I think the kids coming back will. This was a learning experience for them and if they get in the weight room and work hard I think we’ll see results next year.”
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CUMBERLAND GAP (11-15)
Adam Jenkins 6-9 0-1 14, Gavin Burns 3-6 0-1 7, Jordan Bullins 5-12 2-2 13, Bryce Sutton 3-11 0-0 6, Hunter Bayless 1-6 2-2 4, Austin Anderson 2-5 0-2 4, Zach Wilhoit 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 20-49 4-8 48.
Triston Noe 5-16 11-12 24, Alex Reece 2-5 0-0 6, Nick Roberts 2-7 0-0 5, Shawn Logan 5-8 1-2 12, Paul Estep 1-5 2-2 5, Jordan Ledford 0-0 0-0 0, Grant Brooks 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 15-41 14-16 52.
|3-point goals: CG 4-12 (Jenkins 2-3, Burns 1-4, Bullins 1-3, Bayless 0-2), CHS 8-19 (Noe 3-9, Reece 2-4, Logan 1-3, Estep 1-2, Roberts 1-1). Rebounds: CG 26 (Bullins 9, Sutton 9, Bayless 5), CHS 29 (Noe 10, Roberts 8, Estep 6). Turnovers: CG 10, CHS 15. Total fouls: CG 14, CHS 11. Fouled out: none.|