Cannon County's quest for its first District 8-AA regular season title since 1999 was thwarted when visiting Livingston Academy escaped Robert A. Harris Gymnasium with a 69-57 win Friday (Feb. 4).
The showdown of the league's top two teams was highly-anticipated and the combatants did not disappoint a standing-room only crowd in a championship showdown that was not decided until the final minute.
Livingston Academy (17-10, 7-2), which was 15-of-19 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, sealed the game at the charity stripe in the final minutes to complete the season sweep and clinch the regular-season title. Cannon County (17-10, 5-3) can still clinch the No. 2 seed, a first-round bye in the 8-AA Tournament and an automatic berth into the Region 4-AA Tournament with a win against Smith County on Senior Night Friday (Feb. 11).
"One of our team goals this season was to win a district title," Cannon County Head Coach Matt Rigsby said. "I asked our guys after the game, 'Did we specify when that was going to happen, regular season or postseason?' The answer is no. We wanted to get this win and our guys battled and fought hard but there is a much bigger picture at stake."
Cannon County senior guard Justin Davenport continued his offensive prowess with 32 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field, marking the second straight game he has surpassed 30 points. He scored 37 at Tullahoma earlier in the week and was 22-of-36, including 10-of-18 from 3-point range, with 69 points in the two games; however, the Lions lost both.
Jared Nave reached a personal milestone when he joined the 1,000-point club with a driving layup that provided the Lions a 45-38 lead with 7:23 remaining. The highly-productive Nave entered the game needing 10 points to reach the elite club. He finished with 11. Colin Jones added eight for the Lions.
Mason Ramsey led Livingston Academy with 20 points and Logan Ramsey tallied 13, and their size inside created problems for the Lions throughout, but the game was won (or lost) at the free-throw line.
The Lions had played stellar defense in limiting Livingston to 38 points and 17 field goals through three quarters, but the Wildcats erupted for 31 points in the fourth-quarter - despite connecting for just six field goals. Livingston scored almost half of its points from the free-throw line in the final quarter, shooting 19 freebies and converting 15 after making it to the stripe just three times in the previous 24 minutes combined. The Lions were 12-of-14 at the free-throw line.
Cannon County trailed 33-25 at the half but stormed back to take a 43-38 lead into the final quarter, using airtight defense and high-octane offense to turn the game in its favor. The Lions allowed just five points in the third quarter - three during the first 6:58 - to take momentum.
"Things were going good at that point," Davenport said. "We were playing great defense and shooting a good percentage but then everything changed."
It didn't change suddenly.
Cannon County led 45-38 after Nave's power move to the goal with 7:23 remaining and it maintained the cushion for much of the way. Colin Jones' driving layup provided a 53-48 advantage with 4:06 to play in regulation, but the Lions were outscored 21-4 in the final 3:52 despite allowing just three field goals during that stretch.
Cannon County will conclude the regular season with three games this week. The Lions play host to Forrest Tuesday (Feb. 8) and will have Senior Night against Smith County Friday (Feb. 11), before traveling to York Saturday (Feb. 12). Tipoff for the girls game at York game has been moved to 4 p.m. The boys game will start 15 minutes following the completion of the girls game.