By TONY STINNETT
Cannon County's best stretch of team defense in the early season ignited the Lions' 59-53 win against Shelbyville in the Mitch Wilson State Farm Thanksgiving Classic at Robert A. Harris Gymnasium Friday (Nov. 23).
Of, course, clutch offensive plays and pressure free throws also highlighted the Lions' third win against a Class AAA foe in four games. Cannon County improved to 4-0.
Cory Henley led Cannon County with 16 points, followed by Ethan Bryson's 12 points and four rebounds. Tommy Mitchell added nine points for the undefeated Lions.
"We've played teams that have different styles early and we have adjusted well in most situations," Cannon County Head Coach Matt Rigsby said. "We are still learning how to win but it's good to get positive results while you are learning."
Cannon County was 5-of-6 from the free-throw line in the final 68 seconds but it was defense that keyed victory.
Shelbyville had pulled to within 43-42 with 6:41 remaining.
Cannon County tightened an already strong defensive effort down the stretch. The Lions held Shelbyville scoreless for 5:31 and without a field goal for 5:44 to slowly and methodically pull away.
Defensive rebounding was critical during this stretch as it was generally one-and-out for Shelbyville, which shot 33 percent (18-of-54) against the Lions' match-up zone. Cannon County won the battle of the boards, 39-30.
"We take a lot of pride in our defense and rebounding," said Bryson, who was 6-of-8 from the field and scored on back-to-back field goals to start Cannon County's fourth-quarter run. "We make plays in our offense but our mindset is hard-nosed defense and rebounding. Overall, we have done OK to this point."
Cannon County struggled at the free-throw line as it was 15-of-27 but the Lions delivered eight of their successful tries during the fourth quarter. Henley connected on both ends of a one-one-one to give Cannon County a 45-42 lead with 6:05 remaining. It started a 9-0 run that concluded with Henley's short jumper that stretched the lead to 52-42 with 1:20 remaining.
Cannon County had to come back from a three-point second-half deficit. Back-to-back baskets from Mitchell turned a 38-35 Shelbyville advantage into a 39-38 Lion lead it wouldn't relinquish with two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Lions trailed 20-14 after the first quarter and were fortunate to only be down six following a lethargic start that prompted Rigsby to pull the five starters, down 7-2, more than minutes into the first quarter.
The combination of Josh Ruehlen, Jacob Nave, Garrett McReynolds, Ethan Bryson and Zach Higgins ignited the Lions' comeback. Higgins knocked down a long 3-pointer that sparked the Lions. The remainder of the quarter saw the Lions gain ground. The starters did not return until the 5:50 mark of the second quarter, and the Lions had pulled to within 22-16.
"I don't care who you are playing; every time you come into the locker room or step onto the court you need to be focused and ready to play," Rigsby said. "That was a teaching point."