HARTSVILLE - Cannon County's growing pains are becoming, well, painful.
The Lions are growing as a team and have progressed to a point where they have been competitive to the finish, unlike earlier in the season; however, they now have to learn how to take the next step and finish games.
For the second time in as many games, Cannon County squandered a seven-point lead with less than four minutes remaining and eventually suffered defeat both times. The most recent was a 61-57 loss to Pickett County in the quarterfinals of the Trousdale County Holiday Classic Wednesday (Jan. 28).
The Lions will face Merroll Hyde in a loser's bracket game today at Trousdale County High School at 2 p.m.
Cannon County appeared to be moving forward in the winner's bracket after controlling the game throughout and leading, 52-45, with possession of the ball and less than 3:30 remaining. That's when a replay of last Friday's overtime loss against Jackson County began to unfold. The Lions led by seven in that game with less than four minutes remaining before losing in overtime.
The Lions, who had played well throughout, fell apart down the stretch and were outscored 16-5 as Pickett County took advantage of poor decisions, quick shots and costly turnovers.
"We are putting ourselves in position to win but now we have to figure out how to close the deal," Cannon County Head Coach Matt Rigsby said. "We put ourselves in position to win against two good basketball teams in Jackson County and Pickett County, but we make too many mistakes at the end. The disappointing thing about tonight's loss is that we didn't learn from some of the mistakes we made against Jackson County."
Cory Henley led three Cannon County players in double figures with 15. Justin Tobin had one of his best shooting nights and finished with 13 points. Jarrett Melton added 11 and Brad Hutchins finished with eight.
Cannon County (5-11) led throughout and even survived a hot-shooting Pickett County barrage in the third quarter. Pickett County connected on 11-of-14 shots, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range, for a 79 percent shooting clip in the momentum-changing frame.
The Lions shot 64 percent (7-of-11) in the third quarter and were clinging to a 44-40 lead going into the fourth quarter. They were able to overcome Pickett County's hot third quarter by also shooting well, combined with the fact Cannon County had built a 28-15 lead with a stifling defensive effort in the first half. Pickett County was just 6-of-26 (23 percent) against Cannon County's 1-3-1 zone in the first half.
"Our defense was sound and we were causing some problems with our zone," Tobin said. "We were able to extend the lead and had things going good at the half. They came out and hit some shots in the third quarter to get back in the game. Some of those were tough shots. We were there. They just hit them."
Cannon County appeared to have surived the wave of momentum when it stretched the lead to seven, 52-45, on Dalton Ryan's free throw with 3:54 remaining. The Lions missed their next six shots and had three turnovers during a three-minute span that turned the game for good.
The Lions hurt themselves at the free-throw line where they connected on just 7-of-18 attempts. Pickett County was 13-of-15 from the charity stripe.
"You look at the results at the free-throw line and you understand why the outcome is what it is," Rigsby said. "At some point we have to understand how to play with the lead down the stretch. We did a great job of building the lead and protecting it throughout the game. We answered them throughout but then we don't do the things necessary to win down the stretch."
The Lions appeared to get their shooting touch going early. Six of seven field goals the hit during one stretch were all 3-pointers with Tobin supplying three and Melton contributing two. The long ball helped the Lions open a 13-point halftime lead.