By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
CEDAR BLUFF – Johnny Amison wanted to bring back the Cedar Bluff boys basketball culture of old when he came back as head coach this season.
He’s got the Tigers competing for a chance at hosting the area tournament on Thursday night at Spring Garden.
It took a complete effort, but the Tigers managed to hold off Jacksonville Christian down the stretch for a 56-54 victory on Tuesday night. The win improved the Tigers’ record to 14-8 overall and 6-1 in Class 1A, Area 12 action.
“That was one of our team goals coming into the season, to host the area tournament. We’re one step away,” Amison said. “I’m proud of my guys, how hard they fought, the adversity they’ve gone through. This team is so fun to be around in the locker room, outside of the locker room. They do whatever you ask. I feel like any one of them would run through a wall for me. I love them. The coaches love them. I feel that in return. The community is behind us. It’s just good to be back home.”
But the Thunder made Cedar Bluff earn their shot at a regular-season area title.
Jacksonville Christian built a 34-29 advantage at halftime before the Tigers surged ahead. They took a 45-40 edge heading into the fourth quarter, but the Thunder didn’t back down.
A Cameron Moses 3-pointer and a pair of free throws in the waning moments of the game brought Jacksonville Christian within a basket at 49-47 with 3:27 remaining.
Kade Browning answered for the Tigers with a 3-pointer at the 2:43 mark and the front end of two free throws with 2:16 to go to push Cedar Bluff’s advantage back out to six at 53-47.
A pair of free throws by Braxton Brown and a basket by Ethan Fair shaved the Thunder’s deficit to a basket at 53-51 with 1:15 remaining.
Following a timeout, it was Cedar Bluff’s turn to make a big basket, and it was provided in the form of a 3-pointer by MJ Adams, which extended the Tiger lead to 56-51.
Fair responded with his own trey with 30.8 seconds to go to pull the Thunder within a basket at 56-54.
From that point, the Thunder fouled Cedar Bluff on three different occasions to send the Tiger shooters to the free-throw line. They went 0-for-4, keeping a glimmer of hope alive for Jacksonville Christian.
Adams dove over the Tigers’ bench and into the bleachers to save a ball to Caleb Tucker with 6.3 seconds remaining. Tucker was immediately fouled, but couldn’t connect on his free throws.
The Thunder had one last chance to tie or win the game, but Tyler Doggrell’s 3-pointer at the buzzer failed to hit the rim as Cedar Bluff escaped with the win.
“We got lucky tonight,” Amison said. “We talked about (making free throws) when we got in the locker room. (Assistant) Coach (Tom) Baxley was telling them if we make our free throws the game is not as close. We win by six or eight maybe instead of hoping they miss a shot at the end. It’s something we work on relentlessly, and we have gotten better, but we we can’t go 0-for at the end of the game from the free-throw line and expect to win.”
Tucker tallied 22 points, including four 3-pointers, to lead the Tigers. He also grabbed seven rebounds. Eli McFry managed 12 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals. Adams added 11 points, seven boards and five assists. Kade Browning finished with six points.
Brown topped the Thunder with 21 points, including four treys of his own. Fair rang three 3-pointers and had 13 points. Doggrell delivered seven points and Moses finished with five points.
“They came out hot,” Amison said. “I thought we played good defense in the first half. We were in their face, but they were making shots no matter what.
“Number 10 (Brown) was killing us, but Caleb hit some big shots. He got hot at the right time. MJ made some big plays, some good passes. The save at the end might’ve been the biggest play of the game. Dylan Kinard battled his butt off. People were coming off screens and he was pushing those guards back, forcing them back toward their goal, then hustling back to his man, then finishing the play with a rebound. He was big for us tonight on the defensive end. Just a big win for our guys.”
Jacksonville Christian 62, Cedar Bluff 54
CEDAR BLUFF – The Cedar Bluff Lady Tigers cut a 13-point Jacksonville Christian lead down to three points on a steal and a basket by Za’Niya Kyle with 3:06 remaining in the game, but the Thunder went on an 11-6 run the rest of the way to take a 62-54 area basketball win Tuesday evening.
The two teams were tied at 17 after a quarter, but Jacksonville Christian began to pull away at halftime. The Thunder took a 38-27 advantage heading into the locker room. It maintained a 48-40 edge heading into the fourth quarter.
Kylie Vadon led the Lady Tigers (11-10) with 13 points. Kindal Grace contributed 10 points. Kyle collected nine points. Caley Bruce had eight points and Janaya Higgins finished with seven points.
Erin Prater topped the Thunder with 22 points, including four 3-pointers. Kara Grace rang for 18 points. Addy Lee added 10 points. Kirsten Walker sank a pair of treys and finished with six points.