GREENBACK — Greenback boys basketball coach Shane Belcher knows what his team is capable of doing to other teams when it goes on a run. He did not see it play up to that level, though, until late in the fourth quarter.
Still feeling the fatigue from an intense loss Monday night at Kingston, the Cherokees struggled to find their footing against a winless District 4-1A Midway team. Their best effort in the first half resulted in a double-digit lead, but the Green Wave closed the gap before intermission.
“We played Kingston the other night, and all they do is run, run, run,” Belcher told The Daily Times. “We looked tired. I know if this team gets on a two or four-point run, they can blow somebody out. There’s something inside them that takes over. I didn’t want it to have to come to that. Like always, they found some grit, some energy, picked each other up and made buckets when it counted.”
Sophomore Garrett Giles was the difference maker for Greenback in its final surge. He scored a game-high 29 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, to lift the Cherokees to a 79-64 victory over Midway Wednesday night at Greenback High School.
Greenback’s Ty Woody made a pair of free throws to go up 60-59 — the Cherokees held the lead for the remaining 4:46 — but it was Giles’ efforts that saved the night. He immediately followed Woody’s free throws with a steal and score, and then he made a layup on their next offensive possession.
Less than two minutes after Midway’s (5-18, 0-6 District 4-1A) last lead, Greenback’s (12-12, 5-2) advantage was back to a comfortable eight points.
“There’s not many people that are going to stop him when he gets a lane,” Belcher said. “There’s so many shots I wished he wouldn’t take because we’re trying to run down the clock. It’s one of those no, no, no, then yes, yes, yes moments. The kid is special ... He already is.”
Greenback struggled to pull away from Midway in the second half. The Cherokees had a double-digit lead for most of the second quarter, including a 10-point advantage with a minute to play, but the Green Wave finished the half on a surge that cut their deficit to two points at the break, 38-36.
Midway came all the way back in the third quarter and led at several different points of the game. Ethan Lemons and Brennan Reed combined for 13 of Midway’s 15 third quarter points, and the Green Wave forced more Greenback turnovers in the period (four) than it had in the entire first half (two).
Greenback closed the third quarter by taking the lead, setting up Giles’ fourth-quarter heroics. Connor Morton went coast to coast on the Cherokees’ final possession and drew a foul as he made a layup. He completed the three-point play at the free-throw line to put the Cherokees back in front, 53-51.
“I think we wanted it more at the end,” Belcher said. “They wanted it more over the first three quarters, I think. But I think it set in with us that we’ve got to win this thing because we have a chance to tie our district. We wanted it badly.”
Greenback can in fact tie first-place Oakdale in the District 4-1A standings with one more win to close its regular season. Oakdale has already concluded district play and sits at 6-2. A victory Friday at Harriman (7-17, 4-3 District 4-1A) would give the Cherokees a share of the regular-season title and secure them as the No. 1 seed in the upcoming district tournament.
Belcher and the Cherokees know that an effort like Wednesday’s will not cut it against an improved Harriman team looking to play spoiler.
“You can’t play like you did tonight, first and foremost,” Belcher said. “And they knew that. That was the first thing they said when I went into the locker room. And the next message was to be prepared. Harriman is a lot better than they were when we played them earlier this season. We’ll be ready, I have do doubt.”
Greenback girls 41, Midway 35: The Greenback girls basketball team had one basket in the second half from someone not named Keri Alexander, but Lady Cherokees head coach Angie Lucier didn’t mind the top-heavy scorebook.
Leading by just four points entering the fourth quarter, Greenback made a deliberate decision to emphasize Alexander on every offensive possession in the final period. Lucier believed Alexander had a mismatch on Midway defender Sierra Cowell, so the Lady Cherokees’ offense ran through their important senior.
Alexander recorded a 22-point, 13-rebound double-double in the Lady Cherokees’ win over Midway at Greenback High School. Alexander scored 15 of Greenback’s 17 second-half points, including 10 in the fourth quarter alone.
“We were looking to try to get her (Cowell) in a little more foul trouble, and that worked out to our advantage,” Lucier told The Daily Times on Greenback’s emphasis on Alexander. “We were keying on getting her the basketball on the block. We felt like she could score down there, which she did a pretty good job of that, and drawing a foul. They got into some foul trouble so it worked out that way.”
It was because of Alexander that the Lady Cherokees (11-15, 3-4 District 4-1A) survived a valiant fourth-quarter Midway rally. Greenback led 31-27 after the third, but the Lady Waves (15-8, 5-2) pulled within two points with five minutes, 47 seconds left to play, and later trailed 38-35 with 20 seconds left.
Alexander made the game’s final three points at the free throw line to seal Greenback’s district victory. She went 1-for-5 from the charity stripe in the first half, but made 9-of-16 attempts in the final two periods. In the fourth quarter, Alexander made eight trips to the line and connected on seven free throws.
“It speaks volumes to the kind of mental toughness that she brings to the game,” Lucier said. “She did struggle early on and somebody might let that get in their head and be done for the night, but she stepped up there and knocked several down there at the end that we had to have.”
The Lady Cherokees opened the game in a new man-to-man defense in an effort to counteract Midway’s versatile scorers, but it was not as successful as Lucier had hoped for; the score knotted at 10-all after one. Greenback shifted back into its bread and butter, a 3-2 zone defense, and kept the Lady Waves’ offense in check. The first quarter was Midway’s only frame with double-digit points.
“Midway has several girls that can drive and can shoot outside, so we had tried a different defense in the first, but that obviously didn’t work out,” Lucier said. “We switched back to our regular zone and that worked pretty well. Lots of games, teams are getting easy stuff, but I didn’t feel like Midway had anything easy tonight. They definitely had to work for their buckets, so I was proud of the defensive effort.”
Greenback now sits in third place in District 4-1A and will travel to first-place Harriman (14-8, 6-1) Friday night for its regular-season finale.
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