By Chris Whitfield
When a basketball team doesn’t have overwhelming height or tremendous speed, one thing that can make a difference is hustle.
Hustle leads to good defense, and that is certainly one huge attribute for Murray County.
The Indians held Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences to 12 points in the first half Friday during a 49-30 victory on the second day of the Farm Bureau Christmas Classic at Murray County’s Kenneth Ross Gymnasium. Murray County is 2-0 in the round-robin style event as it enters its final day.
“Everything tonight started and ended with our defense,” Murray County coach Greg Linder said. “We did a great job of cutting off their driving lanes and rebounding the ball. You hold a team to 30 points, and you are playing some pretty good defense.”
In other action, Northwest Whitfield let a six-point lead disappear in the fourth quarter of a 52-51 loss to Region 7-4A foe Heritage-Catoosa, while Dalton had plenty of balance and held Coahulla Creek to just eight second-half points in a 68-22 rout.
For the host Indians (6-6), patience was key as Linder’s team made it clear from the start it was willing to make the game a half-court contest. With Murray County holding the Patriots’ guards on the perimeter and working their feet well to keep the outside players from penetrating, CSAS’s offensive style was taken out of the equation. Instead of being able to push the ball up the court, the Patriots were forced to continually turn the offense over while trying to find a way in.
CSAS had just three baskets in the first half, with only two of those coming from set offensive plays.
“You have to work defensively, and if you are willing to do that, the other team’s offense usually isn’t going to be very patient,” Linder said. “The more you make them work, the more impatient they are going to get and make a mistake. We wanted to make them work and see if we could frustrate them.”
It worked just fine.
Murray County got off to a steady start and led 11-3 on Cesar Romero’s basket in the post with 1:00 left in the first quarter. Even though the Patriots scored the next five points to close within a 3-pointer, the Indians responded. Romero and Brady Todd both scored buckets in the paint and an 8-0 spurt put Murray County up 19-8. The Patriots never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.
Rebounding was certainly a key as CSAS scored just one first-half basket off of an offensive board.
Todd finished with a game-high 13 points and also pulled down 12 rebounds. Corbin added 10 points and nine rebounds, while Romero had five rebounds and six points in limited playing time. No Patriot reached double figures.
• Heritage 52, Northwest 51: On a night when nothing seemed to be totally in sync for the Bruins, they couldn’t even get a foul in the final second right.
Northwest pulled to within a point when Tanner Quarles’ 25-footer rattled in, and coach Ryan Richards called a timeout with 1.6 seconds on the clock. However, the Generals, who were 8 of 10 from the free-throw line in the final 2:54 of the game, inbounded the ball and ran the clock out as Northwest failed to foul before the buzzer sounded.
It was the finishing touch on a night that left Richard exasperated.
“Heritage outrebounded us, outplayed us, outhustled us and basically just beat us,” said Richards, whose team fell to 8-2. “We definitely didn’t show up. They outdid us in every way tonight.”
Northwest was never able to establish much of an inside game. O’Shea Hill picked up his second foul early in the first period and never returned in the first half. He picked up his third just as early in the third quarter and sat for a while again.
Still, the Bruins were down just 24-23 at the half after Heritage’s Isaiah Buchanan banked in a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
Northwest started the second half with plenty of pep, using its press effectively and scoring the first seven points of the second half, but the Generals (5-6) responded — something coach Kevin Terry said his team hasn’t done well this season, including Thursday’s double-digit loss to Dalton in which Heritage led 31-30 at halftime.
“The third quarter has been our downfall this year,” Terry said. “We have blown a lot of halftime leads this season and the boys are learning better how to respond in the second half.”
Northwest led 37-31 going into fourth and still led 43-40 before Jaylon Gaines hit a pair of free throws with 2:54 left. A 7-0 run by the Generals gave Heritage the lead, and Northwest never recovered.
“When you have as many returning starters and upperclassmen returning like we have, you can’t have a performance like this,” Richards said.
Cameron Sherlin led Heritage with 18 points, and Cody Sanders added 15 as the Generals broke a four-game losing skid. Quarles was the lone Bruin in double figures with 12.
• Dalton 68, Coahulla Creek 22: The Cats (6-1) jumped out to a 19-8 lead at the end of the first quarter and were never threatened as 11 different players scored.
“It was good to get a lot of kids some good playing time,” Dalton coach Mike Duffie said.
Rico Mears and Emier Bowman both scored 11 points to pace Dalton. Cordarius Tarver led the Colts (0-9) with 11 points.
The Christmas Classic will conclude today with Dalton facing CSAS at 4:30 p.m., followed by Northwest against Coahulla Creek at 6 and Murray County against Heritage in the finale at 7:30.