McMINNVILLE – Shaking up the starting lineup did not enable the Cannon County boys basketball team to enjoy success but it did make possible a road upset against Warren County here Friday (Feb. 3).
The Lions suffered a 56-42 setback in their final non-district game of the regular season but the message Cannon County Head Coach Matt Rigsby wanted to send was well received.
Cannon County (8-19) opened the game with senior Matthew Turney and sophomore Dalton Ryan earning rare starts, along with Tanner Larson, Cory Henley and Tommy Mitchell. The quintet featured four sophomores.
“We shook some things up as a reminder to some kids that nothing is given to you and everything is earned,” Rigsby said. “Sometimes you shake things up when people start to get a little too comfortable. We have had some leadership issues not being addressed so I started the ones I felt were addressing the leadership issues.”
The ploy was not enough to earn the Lions what would have been a quality road win against the Pioneers (13-14) but it did seem to get the overriding message across.
Junior guard Jarrett Melton came off of the bench with a team-high 16 points and senior forward Brad Hutchins responded with a double double with 10 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. They were the only Lions with double figures. Alex Davenport added four points.
“I’m proud of the ones who did respond,” Rigsby said. “If they didn’t respond and take it the way you want them to then we would not have been in the game against a good Warren County team.”
In the end, the biggest problem that has plagued the Lions all season was prevalent in the end – an inability to hit shots consistently. Cannon County made one less field goal and made eight more free throws than the Pioneers. The difference was Warren County hit six 3-pointers and Cannon County managed just one. The Pioneers were 6-of-18 from beyond the arc. The Lions were 1-of-15 and did not hit their only 3-pointer until the final two minutes of the game.
Additionally, Cannon County was just 20-of-33 (61 percent) from the free-throw line, while Warren County was 12-of-18 (67 percent) from the charity stripe. The Lions were 10-of-21 (48 percent) from the free-throw line in the first half, including nine straight misses in the second quarter.
“That was a back-breaker,” Melton said. “You have to hit free throws. We did a great job getting to the line, but we didn’t make those free throws and it really proved to be the difference. There was a lot we could have done better but there is no excuse for missing all of those free throws.”
Indeed, the free-throw line was the difference. Cannon County limited Warren County to seven field goals in the second half, including no shot attempts in the final eight minutes. The Lions also won the battle of the boards, including 18 offensive caroms, and had just one more turnover than the Pioneers.
“In the end we missed too many turnovers and we couldn’t score the ball,” Rigsby said. “We had chances and we had some really good looks but we couldn’t hit the shot. The free throws are very disheartening because we generally are a good free-throw shooting team.”
The Lions quickly fell behind 12-0 with their new-look starting five but when Rigsby inserted his starters turned reserves, things changed.
Melton, Hutchings, Cody Young and Alex Davenport helped light a spark and the Lions outscored Warren County 7-5 the rest of the quarter to close to within 17-7. Despite shooting just 2-of-7 from the field in the second quarter, Cannon County trailed 28-18 and narrowed the gap to as little as five in the second half.
The Lions just couldn’t get over the hump.
“We have a lot of basketball to play and when we are all on the same page we have shown we can do some good things,” Rigsby said.
The Lions cap the regular season at DeKalb County Tuesday (Feb. 7) and at home against Smith County on Senior Night Friday (Feb. 10).