By TONY STINNETT, Courier Sports Editor
Defense is Cannon County's calling card and the Lions put on a clinic at Lincoln County's expense in the Mitch Wilson State Farm Classic at Robert A. Harris Gymnasium Friday (Nov. 29).
The Lions (6-0) suffocated Lincoln County's offensive attack during a 58-30 pasting of the Falcons. Cannon County held Lincoln County to a staggering 13 first-half points, including just 1-of-10 shooting from the field in the second quarter.
Senior guard Cory Henley continued his hot start to the season. He led the Lions with 18 points on the strength of four treys. Tanner Larson was the only other Lion in double figures with 10. He was 5-of-8 from the field.
Nine Lions scored in a balanced attack. Josh Ruehlen had one of his most complete games of the season with eight points on 3-of-4 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 from the free-throw line. He also had three rebounds and two assists.
A.J. Daniel connected for six points and the always-solid Jacob Nave filled the stat line with five points, four rebounds, three steals and two assists.
While their offensive prowess was solid it was a defensive clinic that sparked it.
"When you hold a team to 13 points in the first half, that's saying something," Lions Head Coach Matt Rigsby said. "Defensively, I had nothing to say (after the game). I was really proud of them and the effort they put forth."
It appeared the Lions were going to be in for a battle against the Falcons after a back-and-forth first quarter that ended with Cannon County owning a 12-10 lead.
In fact, a competitive battle is what Rigsby envisioned when he scheduled Class AAA Lincoln County for one of the Lions' Classic contests.
That went out the window in the second quarter when Cannon County turned up the pressure and used its transition scoring to pour in 19 second-half points while limiting Lincoln County to just three second-quarter points on 1-of-10 shooting.
Henley scored 13 of his 18 when the game was on in the first half and helped separate the Lions with three long-range 3-pointers.
"There is a reason why we scheduled Lincoln County in our Classic," Rigsby said. "They do a great job and they pressure you defensively. We wanted to see that style and how we adjusted to it. It was more us learning to play against that style."
Cannon County adjusted quite well and never relented defensively.
Cannon County has demonstrated a knack for sharing the ball and making smart decisions in the open court. Those intangibles have helped spark a solid offensive attack. Rigsby also points to team chemistry as a reason for unselfishness.
"This is the best chemistry we have had (in my six seasons)," Rigsby said. "The reason the chemistry is so great is they all buy into the same things. I have never been one to say give me my first five in practice. Kids are competing every day. That's where I would like to see some of our freshmen and young kids step up. It's open to them. We want depth and we will figure out how to use it. We invite that."
The Lions have demonstrated depth with 10 players consistently seeing action in games. That will be tested during a stretch when the Lions play three games in five days, culminating with the District 8-AA opener against Macon County at Harris Gymnasium Tuesday (Dec. 3). Tipoff is 7:15 p.m.