“Anytime you can win twenty games — whether its middle school, elementary or whatever — it means a lot because it shows you’ve put a lot of hard work into it and that the kids have bought in to your system,” Clawson said. “At the beginning of the year we set a goal to get at least twenty wins in the regular season and we’ve accomplished that. Plus, there were about three or four games that went into overtime or were very close so we could have easily had 23 or 24 wins. It’s been good, but it’s not finished.”
The Panthers will open play in the District 2-AA tournament Friday at 5:30 p.m. against host Chuckey-Doak. Cumberland Gap is the third seed. Rounding out the District 2-AA tournament: top seed South Greene has a first round bye and will play the winner of the Claiborne-Grainger game in the semifinals on Saturday while second seed Greeneville plays West Greene Thursday.
On the girls side Grainger is the top seed and has a first round bye, they’ll meet the winner between South Greene and West Greene in the semifinals on Saturday. The other side of the bracket has No. 2 seed Chuckey-Doak taking on Claiborne and Cumberland Gap meeting third-seeded Greeneville. The Lady Panthers game is set for Friday at 4 p.m.
“Another goal we set was to do something that’s never been done here at Cumberland Gap and that’s to win a district championship,” Clawson said. “That’s what our mind is set on, what our heart is set on and we’re going to go there and give it our best.”
During the season the Panthers, Greeneville and South Greene separated themselves a bit from the pack and enter the tournament as the three favorites. The race for the top seeds came down to the final two games as Cumberland Gap dropped very close contests at South and at home in overtime to Greeneville.
“South Greene shot 9 for 12 from the 3-point line and their free throw shooting was phenomenal. I think we missed 13 free throws in that game on only got beat by three. I feel pretty good if we get a chance to play them again,” said Clawson. “Against Greeneville we didn’t have one of our best offensive nights, but you’ve got to give them some credit for that. We match up well with both of them, it comes down to execution. I feel like we have a great opportunity to win it just like they do.”
The Panthers aren’t overlooking Chuckey-Doak in the first round. The Black Knights erased a huge halftime deficit in the teams’ last meeting before Cumberland Gap pulled away late to put the game away.
“We’ve got Chuckey-Doak on their home floor, which is a team that’s very scary. They’re loaded with talent. They’ve got some some really big kids inside that are complemented by their guards,” Clawson said. “How we match up with them — It will be totally how we control penetration and keep them off the offensive boards. If we can do those two things and contest shots then I think we have great chance of winning.
“Anybody can beat anybody in this tournament and that’s what’s going to make it so interesting. Whoever comes ready to play, the team that wants it most, is the team that’s going to win it.”
Cumberland Gap is led by senior guard Ben Arnold, who ranks among the school’s all time leading scorers. They have a nice pick-and-roll game in the half court, usually with Arnold and junior post Nathan Hatmaker. Sophomore Trevor Graves provides a speedy option at point guard while junior Blake Arnold helps stretch the floor and senior forward Jon Slaven is a second option inside. Slaven and Arnold are also key defensively when the Panthers turn to a full-court press. Off the bench, sophomore Isaac Daniels has impressed in limited duty in the post while senior Logan Gilbert gives the team another 3-point option and freshman Jordan King brings defense and energy along the perimeter.
On Tuesday Cosby (10-15, but the top seed in District 2-A) played the Panthers tough early as the game was tied at 14 after one period.
Cumberland Gap took over in the second quarter as they outscored the Eagles 17-6. Blake Arnold hit two 3-pointers during that spurt, Slaven scored five points and Ben Arnold four as the lead was 31-20 by halftime.
The Panthers put the game away in the third quarter as they held Cosby to just two points. Meanwhile, the Arnolds scored six points each, Hatmaker added five and Gilbert knocked down a 3. By the fourth quarter the Cumberland Gap lead was a commanding 52-22.
Both teams subbed heavily in the final period and Tyler Widener scored seven points for the Panthers as they went on to the 30-point win.
Ben Arnold led Cumberland Gap with 17 points, Blake Arnold finished with 12 and Hatmaker added 11 in the game.
— — —
Cosby………...... 14 6 2 11 — 33
Cumb. Gap……. 14 17 21 11 — 63
COSBY (33): Cory Valentine 8, Tate Parton 8, Tanner Phillips 7, Andrew Adams 5, Timmy Smelcer 3, Jacob Grooms 2, Luke Lemons 0, Jake Ledford 0, Ryan Hatfield 0, Zack Daruna 0, Jordan Self 0, Chandler Ducket 0, Brady Williams 0.
CUMBERLAND GAP (63): Ben Arnold 17, Blake Arnold 12, Nathan Hatmaker 11, Jon Slaven 8, Tyler Widener 7, Logan Gilbert 3, Isaac Daniels 2, Zach Gilbert 2, Trevor Graves 1, Jordan King 0, Gavin Burns 0, Austin Anderson 0.