SPARTA – No. 10-ranked Cannon County did everything it needed to do against Upperman in the Region 4-AA semifinals here Tuesday night.
That is everything except win.
The Lions (27-8) were able to keep the game close with the same sound defense they had displayed all season; however, Cannon County was not able to muster enough offense in a tough, 54-44, setback against the Bees (26-6).
Cannon County, Upperman and Livingston Academy finished tied for a share of the District 8-AA regular-season championship and both teams played like championship contenders in the region semifinals.
“I’m so proud of my guys and this basketball team,” Lions Head Coach Matt Rigsby said. “They have put in so much work and dedicated themselves in the offseason and during the season to enjoy the success they have this year. Seasons like the one we have had don’t happen by accident. These seasons happen because you have good players who buy in and dedicate themselves to being great.”
This Cannon County team was one of the special ones. The Lions shared a regular-season championship and were one of the final 32 teams playing in Class AA, which consists of more than 250 teams.
Senior Cory Henley, who led the Lions with 12 points against Upperman, concluded his fabulous career with 1,305 points and finished fourth on the Cannon County all-time scoring list – just 37 points behind Charles Dillard’s 1,342 points for third place.
“I’m sure one day it will mean something to finish in the top four all-time but it doesn’t seem like much right now,” Henley said. “ Our hearts were set on winning this game, playing for a region championship and advancing to the Substate. Our goal was to get to the state tournament and we were close but we didn’t get there. We did have a great season, and I am proud to have been part of this run and Cannon County basketball.”
Cannon County prefers an up-tempo, fast-paced game; however, the Lions’ defense is such that a low-scoring game against Upperman played into their paws. Cannon County limited the Bees but it couldn’t do enough offensively to earn the win.
In addition to Henley’s 12 points, Jacob Nave scored nine and Tanner Larson had eight. No other Lion had more than four points.
Cannon County’s issue was its perimeter shooting. The Lions shot 16-of-25 from inside the 3-point arc (64 percent); however, they were just 1-of-12 from 3-point range. Consequently, they were 17-of-37 overall for 46 percent.
Larson was 4-of-5 from the field with eight rebounds and Nave as 2-of-3, but they didn’t get enough touches inside the paint.
Cannon County trailed 32-23 at the half but cut the deficit to four to start the second half after consecutive baskets from Henley, Larson and Nave; however, the Lions could never get closer against an Upperman team with eight seniors and that shot 17-of-37 from the field.
Tyler McWilliams led the Bees with 15 and Cody DeVillanavaia netted 13.