Sophomore forward Tanner Larson pulls a rebound against York during the Lions' 50-45 win Friday.
If beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder then Cannon County basketball fans likely were reveling in the Lions’ 50-45 win against District 8-AA foe York at Robert A. Harris Gymnasium Friday (Jan. 20).
Pardon the oxymoron but it was a pretty ugly win and that’s just fine with Lions Head Coach Matt Rigsby, whose team ended a five-game losing streak.
“I’m OK with ugly,” Rigsby said. “It’s a win and these guys deserve this win because everyone stepped in and fulfilled their role. It was ugly but ugly is a good thing. Ugly means you outrebounded your opponent and you forced more turnovers than you allowed. We grinded it out against a good team and it was a happy locker room.”
The Lions (7-16, 2-5) were led by Cory Henley’s 13 points and three steals but the biggest difference maker was junior Jarrett Melton, who had one of his better all-around games with 10 points, six assists and five steals. Tanner Larson added 11 points and five rebounds, and Justin Tobin was highly active with seven points, six rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots.
“Everyone played well and carried out their assignments,” Melton said. “We don’t have a lot of margin for error and we didn’t make a lot of mistakes in this game. It was good to get this win after they beat us in a close game at York. The biggest thing is that we played together and we overcame what mistakes we did make.”
Showing the signs of a young team making strides and improving, Cannon County flexed its muscle when it mattered most. The Lions saw their 13-point, third quarter lead dwindle to four, 42-38, after Gavan Cook’s 3-pointer with 3:57 remaining.
Instead of collapsing down the stretch, the Lions fought back with four consecutive defensive stops.
Tommy Mitchell’s runner stretched the lead to 44-38 with 1:23 remaining, but John McBride’s short jumper narrowed the gap to 44-40 and kept the Dragons’ hopes alive.
Larson, who has shown tremendous growth as a sophomore and is playing his best basketball down the stretch, followed with one of the biggest shots of the game. Larson knocked down a baseline jumper off of an out cut in the short corner to push the lead back to 46-40 with 47 seconds remaining.
“That was a big, big shot,” Rigsby said. “Tommy Mitchell’s shot to end a scoring drought when York was making a run was big. There were so many different players who stepped up and did things to contribute to the win.”
Henley knocked down two pressure free throws with 30 seconds remaining to give the Lions a six-point lead, but Cook answered with a clutch 3-pointer to slice the advantage to 48-45. The Dragons were once again forced to foul Henley and he delivered with two more pressure free throws to give Cannon County a 50-45 lead with 19 seconds remaining. The Lions forced a Cook miss on a 3-point attempt to essentially put the finishing touches on the win.
“We shot our free throws well as a team tonight and I was glad to be able to come through with those four at the end,” Henley said. “All of our players are capable of making those free throws, but I do like the ball in my hands in that situation because I work hard on those and I have confidence to get it done. It’s great to get in the win column because we have been working hard.”
York put together a strong fourth quarter with 21 points. Cook scored 13 of his game-high 18 in the final quarter and made three 3-pointers under heavy duress.
“Great players make big plays in the clutch and that’s what (Cook) did,” Rigsby said. “Fortunately, our players countered what he did by closing the game out and finishing.”
The Lions turned the game in their favor in the third quarter.
Cannon County, which led 23-20 at intermission, used a 16-4 third-quarter run to take a 39-24 lead. York only managed two field goals in nine attempts and turned the ball over seven times, while the Lions were 7-of-16 in the pivotal third quarter with only two giveaways.
Brad Hutchins’ offensive board work was key in the third-quarter run as it gave the Lions three second-chance opportunities and they answered successfully on each. Henley knocked down two 3-pointers during the run.