By TONY STINNETT, Courier Sports Editor
SPARTA - Cory Henley was at his best when it mattered most.
The senior standout regarded as one of the top players in District 8-AA scored eight of his game-high 21 points in the final 2:15 to help lead No. 10-ranked Cannon County to a 67-61 win against Macon County to finish third in the postseason event at White County High School Tuesday (Feb. 18).
“More than anything it was just important to get a win under our belt going into the Region 4-AA Tournament,” said Lions Head Coach Matt Rigsby, who has guided his alma mater to one of the winningest seasons in program history. “You always want to win anytime you are on the court competing but this game was important from the standpoint that you want to better your seeding and you really want to go into the region on a winning note.”
Many different players were responsible for Cannon County getting its much needed win but Henley came through in the clutch when it mattered most.
He nailed back-to-back 3-pointers in a 39-second span late in the fourth quarter to finally provide the Lions a bit of breathing room. Henley’s clutch 3-pointer with 2:15 remaining extended the Lions’ lead to 59-55.
After a Macon County’s Dillon McCormick connected on a short jumper to narrow the gap to 59-57 with 1:52 remaining, Henley buried his second straight trey and fourth in seven attempts to push the lead to 62-57. He added two free throws with 34 seconds remaining to ultimately seal the win.
“I have confidence in those situations,” Henley said. “I believe my teammates have confidence in me to take those shots in (those) situations. When the game is on the line down the stretch you have to forget everything that has happened and just focus on getting it done. I just wanted to win.”
The senior standout who ranks as one of the top four all-time scorers in Cannon County boys basketball history earned All-Tournament accolades for his display of consistency during the Lions’ three tournament games.
Junior reserve A.J. Daniel, who has played his best basketball down the stretch, also earned a spot on the 10-player All-Tournament team. Daniel finished with six points, three rebounds and two assists in the consolation game; however, his play off the bench throughout the tournament was stellar and consistent.
Junior Josh Ruehlen also turned in a strong tournament showing and finished with 12 points on 3-of-5 shooting from the field against Macon County. Ruehlen was also 5-of-5 at the free-throw line.
Always reliable and consistent, Jacob Nave tallied seven points on 2-of-3 shooting, five rebounds, two assists and one block. Garrett McReynolds, Marshall McReynolds and Tanner Larson scored six each and Austin Martin tallied three. In addition to his six points, Larson also had eight rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals to aid the Lions’ cause.
Cannon County trailed 46-37 in the third quarter and had not displayed its customary solid defense; however, things turned midway through the third quarter as the Lions put together a run that saw them pull to within, 46-43, on Daniel’s layup with 3:40 remaining in the third.
Garrett McReynolds’ five-footer from the middle of the lane pulled the Lions to within 46-45 and then sophomore reserve Austin Martin provided the team with its first lead since the first quarter when he grabbed an offensive rebound and powered it back up to give Cannon County a 47-46 advantage.
At that point the game was on.
“We did not play the type of defense was are accustomed to in the first half and, as a result, we gave up 36 points in the first half,” Daniel said. “That is not typical of our defense. We take pride in our defense so that was something we had to get corrected.”
They did and Cannon County ultimately wore Macon County (17-14) eventually wilted.
Daniel’s offensive rebound and putback with 44 seconds remaining provided the Lions a 51-49 lead at the end of the third quarter and set the stage for a competitive and tough fourth quarter.
The Lions trailed 55-52 with 6:10 remaining but Henley buried an 18-footer to pull Cannon County to within 55-54 at the five-minute mark. Nave’s offensive rebound and putback gave the Lions the lead for good, 56-55, with 3:10 remaining.
Although Cannon County did not display its usual solid defensive prowess in the first half, the Lions did come to life when it mattered. They held Macon County to 2-of-7 from the field with three turnovers in the game’s final five minutes.