HARROGATE, Tenn. — Cumberland Gap withstood a strong rally by the Claiborne Bulldogs Friday and came away with a 59-56 win in District 2-AA action.
The Panthers appeared to have the game well in control as they enjoyed a 16-12 lead after one quarter and a 33-25 edge at the half. But Triston Noe scored 16 of his game-high 27 points in the second half and Paul Estep scored nine of his 15 after the break to lead a comeback that saw Claiborne get within one point just past the midway point of the fourth quarter.
“Claiborne came over here tonight and played our tails off. We made a run on them early, but they did not back down and stayed right with it,” Panther coach Ernie Clawson said. “Those two kids, Noe and Estep, scored 40-some points and did a very good job. I want to commend them for that. On paper we may have better athletes but it didn’t measure up to the size of those kids’ heart.”
Trevor Graves, who led Cumberland Gap with 16 points, scored with about 3:30 left to put the Panthers up by three. He added a 3-pointer at the 2:30 mark to make it 55-48. The Panthers went 4-for-6 from the line down the stretch and survived a couple of late turnovers to hang on.
“Trevor stepped up and hit a big 3, made some shots and hit his free throws. Jordan King stepped to line and made his free throws. But we missed too many as a team tonight and that’s got to get better,” Clawson added. “Overall I thought we got out-played tonight but our kids kept fighting and found a way to win. I’m proud of them for that.”
Blake Arnold and Isaac Daniels finished with 12 points each for the Panthers to join Graves in double-figures.
It was a balanced effort early on that helped Cumberland Gap build their lead. Six different player scored in the first period, led by Daniels with four points. Graves converted a three-point play and Matt Wade came off the bench to hit a 3 as the lead grew to 16-11.
Arnold scored seven of his points in the second period. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs got five points from Noe, four from Estep and baskets from Victor Mize and Nick Roberts to stay within striking distance. It was 33-25 at the half.
Cumberland Gap’s leading scorer Nathan Hatmaker was held to just three points in the game and that was one key to the Claiborne comeback.
“They did a very good job on Nathan and Isaac inside. They just pushed us off the block and did a solid job making us shoot outside shots,” Clawson said.
Estep and Noe scored seven points each in the third as they whittled the lead down to 45-39 going into the fourth.
Noe scored nine of his points in the fourth quarter as the Bulldogs made things very interesting late.
After Graves hit a pair of free throws the Panther lead was 59-52 with 30 seconds remaining. Claiborne missed a 3-pointer and Daniels secured the rebound. Cumberland Gap had numbers out on a break but missed a layup and the Bulldogs came out with the ball. Noe was fouled and hit two free throws with 7.9 seconds on the clock to cut the lead to five.
On the following inbounds play, King got behind the press and was wide open but the long pass to him hit the curtain hanging on the gym rafters and the ball was awarded to Claiborne.
Will Hoskins scored with five seconds left to trim the lead to 59-56. The Panthers missed a pair of free throws, but Claiborne was never able to get a potential game-tying shot off as time expired.
“I thought we were getting better in terms of finishing games. We went to Grainger the other night and played really well down the stretch,” Clawson said. “We just had some silly turnovers that gave them a chance. We’ve got to hit our free throws and it comes down to mental toughness. That’s something this team is going to have to get in order for us to take the next step.”
Cumberland Gap (5-2, 3-1 in district play) travels to Knox Central, Ky., today while Claiborne (2-6, 1-3) will host Oneida Thursday.
— — —
Claiborne…….12…13…14..17 — 56
Cumb. Gap….16…17…12…14 — 59
CLAIBORNE (56): Tristan Noe 27, Paul Estep 15, Nick Roberts 7, Will Hoskins 4, Victor Mize 2, Joe Ledford 1, Shawn Logan 0.
CUMBERLAND GAP (59): Trevor Graves 16, Isaac Daniels 12, Blake Arnold 12, Jordan King 6, Blake Franklin 5, Matt Wade 5, Nathan Hatmaker 3, Jordan Bullins 0, Austin Anderson 0, Adam Jenkins 0.