By TONY STINNETT, Courier Sports Editor
The final boys game of the Mitch Wilson State Farm Thanksgiving Classic was everything anticipated in a battle of unbeatens.
Cannon County and MTCS took center stage in the Saturday night prime time showdown that was riveting, action-packed and down to the wire.
Unfortunately, for Cannon County, the Lions came up on the short end of a 54-50 setback in front of a full house at Robert A. Harris Gymnasium.
“It was everything I thought it would be,” Cannon County Head Coach Matt Rigsby said. “MTCS has a very good team and we knew it would be a tough, hard-fought competitive game and it was that.”
The Lions (6-1) played well enough defensively to win, holding the Cougars (7-0) to 26 points below their 80-point per game average.
The offense; however, was out of sync.
Cory Henley was the only Cannon County player in double figures with 11. Josh Ruehlen and Jacob Nave each scored eight, followed by Tanner Larson with six points, seven rebounds and three blocks.
MTCS standout Derrick Spears, a Class A Mr. Basketball Finalist last season, scored a game-high 19 points.
“When our defense can’t create offense, especially when we aren’t shooting it well, that creates a problem,” Rigsby said. “There was a tempo issue and that’s to their credit.”
Cannon County had to feel good about its chances when it carried a 28-27 lead into the half.
Although the lead was slim, Cannon County had maintained an advantage despite starters Henley and Nave on the bench the entire second quarter with two fouls each.
It didn’t work out as anticipated.
MTCS led 39-38 heading into the fourth quarter and it was a showdown to the end.
Henley’s 7-foot floater provided a 47-44 edge with 3:37 remaining and Cannon County had to like its situation after Ruehlen’s clutch 3-pointer from the wing staked it to a 50-46 lead with 1:46 remaining.
Ben Brown was fouled on a 3-point attempt on the next possession. He connected on all three to pull the Cougars to within 50-49.
Spears stuck the dagger when he converted an 18-footer following a Cannon County turnover to give the Cougars a 51-50 lead with 1:03 remaining.
The Lions had three chances to tie or take the lead in the final minute but misfired on two attempts.
The Lions, trailing 52-50, still had a chance when Henley collected a turnover with eight seconds remaining, but his pass down low went out of bounds.
The Cougars knocked down two free throws to seal the win.
Cannon County was just 5-of-7 from the free-throw line. MTCS was 14-of-19 from the charity stripe. The Cougars were clutch went it counted, converting 9-of-11 attempts in the fourth quarter.