By TONY STINNETT/ Courier Sports Editor
COOKEVILLE - Cannon County put a scare into top-seeded DeKalb County but the regular-season champs flexed their muscle down the stretch and escaped with a 69-60 win against the fourth-seeded Lions in the semifinals of the District 8-AA Tournament at Cookeville High School Saturday (2/16).
The Lions were scheduled to face No. 3 seed Upperman in a consolation game at Cookeville High School Monday. They will play in the Region 4-AA Tournament next weekend.
Jarrett Melton led three Cannon County players with 17 points to go along with five rebounds and five assists. Cory Henley scored 16 and Tommy Mitchell finished with 12 points, four rebounds and three assists. All three guards were outstanding against the Tigers (28-4).
It wasn't enough to overcome the contributions of Tiger post Brandon Atnip. The Lions had held Atnip to his two lows against district foes with seven and 11, respectively.
They had no answer for him in the semifinals. Atnip finished with 25 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field and 7-of-11 from the free-throw line.
"Atnip was a workhorse in there and we couldn't stop him tonight," Cannon County Head Coach Matt Rigsby said. "They are a great team and it was a great basketball game. I love our players' effort, their focus and the way guys are talking on the bench. We are competing but, unfortunately, at tournament time competing is not enough. It's about wins."
Cannon County (13-16) came within a whisker of pulling off a shocker.
The Lions, who trailed by double figures early in the third quarter, battled back and had the Tigers reeling. Melton's free throw with 1:56 remaining tied the game 60-60 but it was the last point of the game for the Lions.
DeKalb County scored nine unanswered down the stretch to survive the upset bid and set up a championship bout with No. 2 seed Livingston Academy.
"We played one of our better games and we had our chances to get the win," Melton said. "I really believed we were going to get the win. We just couldn't finish but it was a great effort. I'm proud of our team. We are playing well down the stretch and this is when you want to be playing your best."
Melton almost ignited the upset.
His long 3-pointer with 5:35 remaining tied the game, 54-54. His pull-up jumper tied it again, 56-56, with 3:42 remaining. He tied it again, 60-60, with his free throw at the 1:56 mark, but the final push belonged to DeKalb County.
DeKalb County earned a first-round bye as the regular-season champion and it may have paid dividends down the stretch against a Lions team playing its second game in as many nights.
Cannon County was 19-of-33 from the field through the first three quarters. It was 4-of-14 in the final quarter with several shots coming up short off the front of the rim. DeKalb County was 12-of-20 from the field in the second half, including 5-of-9 in the final quarter.
Overall, it was one of Cannon County's better shooting efforts. The Lions were 23-of-47 from the field but they were just 2-of-12 from 3-point range.
The Lions turned up the pressure in the second half and forced 13 turnovers after DeKalb County had just one in the entire first half. The Tigers were able to get behind the defense a handful of times that proved devastating down the stretch.
"We had four breakdowns in our pressure that were critical," Rigsby said. "Those are crippling because we don't get back and they get an easy layup. We had them throwing (the ball) all over the floor but they found a way to pull it together down the stretch."
Rigsby said DeKalb County’s overall team athleticism also impacted various substitution patterns.
“They are so athletic and have such a great deal of team speed that it does change what we like to do,” Rigsby said. “I really thought our guys executed and gave themselves a great opportunity at getting a win. The good thing is we are playing some of our best basketball and this is the time to being doing that.”
Cannon County’s Garrett McReynolds and Tanner Larson added four each.