By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Cherokee (22-3) and Hayesville (21-5) were due for a showdown. Each team had won a game against the other during the regular season, and the two shared the Big Smoky Mountain Conference regular season title. That showdown took place in the finals of the conference tournament on Friday, Feb. 19 at the Charles George Arena, and the Braves came out on top 102-96.
Justus Day, sophomore forward, led Cherokee with 32 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals. He was followed by Jason McMillan, senior point guard, with 22 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals.
The Arena was absolutely packed. It was loud. The feeling in the air was electric, and Willis Tullos, Braves head coach, was happy with his team’s performance.
“Toward the end, we had some rough moments, but we got it steady and held on to win, and that’s all that matters,” he said after the emotional game. “At this time of the year, you want to win and advance, that’s all you want to do.”
Coach Tullos added, “We shot the ball well…we got off to a real good start and shot the ball well, and then we shot it well enough to hold on.”
Getting off to a good start was important he noted. “If you don’t get off to a good start against Hayesville, they’ll bury you.”
“Our guys are pretty tough,” Coach Tullos commented. “They’ve got a lot of heart, and they wanted this really, really bad. It’s been a long time coming.”
On the night, Cherokee hit 17 of 34 from the floor (50 percent), 16 of 35 from three-point land (46 percent), and a much-improved 20 of 25 (80 percent) from the free throw line. Hayesville made 22 of 33 (67 percent) from the floor, 13 of 39 (33 percent) three-pointers and 13 of 19 (68 percent) free throws.
Both teams traded baskets early in this one, and Hayesville led 8-5 two minutes in. Cherokee grabbed the lead (14-12) a minute later and led 19-16 with three minutes left in the first. McMillan hit three-pointers on two consecutive trips down the court at around the two minute mark to put Cherokee up by 12 points (30-18), and they led 33-20 at the end of the first.
The second period was a dead heat with both teams scoring 22 points.
Hayesville pulled to within 5 points (41-36) at the 3:44 mark of the period, but Cherokee extended their lead back to 9 with two minutes left.
With five seconds left before the half, Cory Junaluska, Braves junior center, drove the lane for two points. Day stole the ensuing inbounds pass and quickly put it in for another two points. He was fouled on the shot, made his foul shot for the traditional three-point play, and the Braves led 55-42 at the half.
The Yellow Jackets actually outscored Cherokee in the third period (27-24). Hayesville whittled Cherokee’s lead down to 4 points (63-59) with 3:32 left in the third, but the Braves went on an 8-3 run from that point to lead 71-62 with 1:48 left.
Then, Cherokee went on an 8-0 run in the next minute to lead 79-62 and led by 10 points (79-69) at the end of the period.
The fourth period was hard fought. Cherokee led by as many as 13 points at one time. With 2:17 left in the game, the Braves were up by 12 points (93-81), but Hayesville went on a 13-6 run to cut that to 99-94 with 39.2 seconds left.
They got to within three (99-96), but Cherokee hit some free throws late and ended up taking the 102-96 win and the championship trophy.
Other Braves stats include: Tye Mintz 18 pts, 5 reb, 2 assists, 1 steal; Steven Straughan 9 pts, 3 reb, 1 assist, 1 steal; Kennan Panther 2 pts, 1 reb; Holden Straughan 6 pts, 1 reb, 2 assists; Cory Junaluska 2 pts; and Logan Teesateskie 11 pts, 1 steal.
Rosman scorers included: Owen Gibson 10, Tyler Leek 8, Josh Cottrell 14, Rich Honeycutt 3, Hunter Reaux 11, Braxton Cox 26 and Zach Cottrell 24.
To view or purchase photos from this game, visit: https://onefeather.smugmug.com/SPORTS/BASKETBALL/BRAVES-BASKETBALL-201516/Vs-Hayesville-SMC-finals/i-b7zGdwN