By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
BRYSON CITY – When you can win a big game over your rival and clinch a conference title at the same time, it’s a good night. And, it was a good night as the Cherokee Braves (19-3, 11-1) defeated Swain County (12-10, 4-7) by a score of 88-58 to clinch a share of the Big Smoky Mountain Conference title on Thursday, Feb. 11.
“I thought we played great,” said Willis Tullos, Braves head coach. “We did a great job defensively, and we shot the ball extremely well.”
He was proud of his team’s accomplishment. “We won the Big Smoky Mountain Conference championship and are 11-1 in the conference, and that’s a great way to do it. It was a great ballgame.”
Jason McMillan, senior point guard, led Cherokee with 23 points, 2 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 steals. Three other players were in double digits for the Braves including: Justus Day 20 pts, 2 reb; Tye Mintz 17 pts, 1 assist, 5 reb, 2 steals; and Logan Teesateskie 12 points, 3 reb.
Overall, both teams shot the ball well from the floor with Cherokee shooting 61 percent (14 of 23) and Swain at 54 percent (15 of 28).
The three-point shots were raining from the rafters all night long. In fact, the two teams combined for 76 three-point attempts, which is second all-time in NCHSAA basketball history. Cherokee actually holds that record with Andrews as the two teams combined for 77 attempts last month. In Thursday’s game, Cherokee shot 18 of 46 (39 percent) from three-point land and Swain made 7 of 30 (23 percent).
The first few minutes of this game were close with several lead changes. Swain got on the board first and Teesateskie answered with a three-point shot at the 7:15 mark to put Cherokee ahead. From that point, the teams traded baskets and the Braves led 10-8 at the 5:57 mark of the first.
For the next three minutes, Cherokee went on an 8-0 run to lead 18-8 with just less than three minutes left in the first period. Swain tried to slow down the pace of the game, but Cherokee was able to outscore them 9-5 in the last two minutes to take a 27-13 lead into the second period.
The first two minutes of the second period were tight with Swain edging Cherokee 6-5 and the Braves led 32-17 at the 5:40 mark and 42-21 at the 3:22 mark. Cherokee began to extend their lead, and Josiah Lossiah, freshman forward, hit a three-point shot from two steps inside the halfcourt line at the buzzer to give the Braves a 49-25 lead at halftime.
The third period was all Cherokee. Their press shot down a lot of Swain’s offense, and the Braves outscored them 22-14 to take a 71-39 lead into the final period.
McMillan hit a three-point shot from the left side with 6:41 left in the ballgame to put Cherokee up by 41 (82-41) thereby invoking the NCHSAA mercy rule. The Braves got a lot of play from their bench in the last period and went on to take the 30-point (88-58) win.
Other Braves stats included: Steven Straughan 3 pts, 1 reb; Kennan Panther 1 pt, 1 assist, 2 reb; Holden Straughan 4 pts, 2 assists, 2 reb; Josiah Losiah 4 pts; and Cory Junaluska 4 pts, 3 assists, 3 reb, 1 steal.
Swain was led by Evan Bradley with 19 points followed by Grant Shuler and Phinehas Little with 11 each.
To view or purchase photos from this game, visit: https://onefeather.smugmug.com/SPORTS/BASKETBALL/BRAVES-BASKETBALL-201516/At-Swain-February-12/