By TONY STINNETT
Tanner Larson received an early return on his investment.
The Cannon County junior forward scored a career-high 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting to help lead the Lions to a 71-53 win against Cumberland County in the season opener at Robert A. Harris Gymnasium Tuesday (Nov. 13).
Larson said hard work during the offseason paid off right away.
"I have worked during the offseason but our team has worked hard all spring and summer and hopefully that is paying off for us," Larson said. "My teammates got me the ball around the goal or behind the defense and I just finished shots."
Larson finished a lot of shots.
So did senior post Ethan Bryson, who finished with eight points on 4-of-7 shooting.
The Lions used an inside advantage over the smaller Jets with the 6-foot-4 Larson and 6-5 Bryson feasting on the opposing forwards.
The two combined to shoot 14-of-21. Larson also added five rebounds.
"I was proud of (Bryson) because his makes were more with his back to the basket in the halfcourt setting," Cannon County Head Coach Matt Rigsby said. "(Larson) finished a lot of shots. He was the beneficiary of being the back guy in our press offensive so he had a lot of opportunities and he finished. I was pleased with both of them."
Cory Henley also reached double figures with 11 points. Jarrett Melton and Tommy Mitchell had solid all-around games. Both players scored eight points. Melton added seven assists and seven steals. Mitchell added five assists, four rebounds and two steals.
The Lions did not shoot well beyond 15 feet. They were 3-of-13 from 3-point range for 23 percent and hit just 6-of-12 free throws. The Lions did dish out 22 assists on their 31 field goals.
Cannon County's three primary guards - Henley, Melton and Mitchell - were a combined 11-of-29 from the field.
"We didn't shoot well from the field but that's going to happen," Rigsby said. "I was more concerned that we didn't hit free throws and we had more turnovers (19) than we would have liked. The things we need to improve can be improved. Overall it was a good way to start the season."
The Lions broke the game open in the second quarter and never let the Jets become a serious factor from there. After nursing a 14-12 lead after the opening frame, Cannon County knocked down nine field goals in the second quarter. The Lions' tough halfcourt defense also was a factor in turning the game. Cumberland County was held to three field goals in the quarter as Cannon County carried a 38-20 lead into the half.
Cumberland County chipped to within 11 in the third quarter but the Lions would never let them over the hump.
"It was good to see the kids finish the game," Rigsby said. "I was really proud of that. We built the lead and then we played with the lead. We need to improve our press offense but we handled their pressure well overall. We needed a game like that early."