HARROGATE, Tenn. — Expectations are high for Cumberland Gap in 2012-13. One year after placing third in District 2-AA, the Panthers are looking to better that finish behind a rotation led by seven seniors. The season couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start as CGHS knocked off Knoxville Catholic 51-41 in Tuesday’s opener.
“This was an excellent win. We’re talking about a powerhouse out of Knoxville who is year-in and year-out a very good team,” said Panther coach Ernie Clawson, adding that playing the Irish is part of his plan to upgrade the schedule this season. “Our schedule was not tough enough last year so we wanted to play some big, strong, fast teams to help get us ready for the district.”
Senior forward Nathan Hatmaker scored 18 points and senior point guard Trevor Graves added 13 as Cumberland Gap broke open a tight game in the fourth quarter to win by ten.
Late in the third quarter a 3-pointer from Ryan Henry gave Catholic their first lead since the game’s opening minutes at 34-32. But Graves answered with a 3 of his own on the following possession and the Panthers carried a 35-34 edge into the fourth.
Graves hit another 3 early in the final period while Blake Arnold and Jordan King added long two-pointers and Cumberland Gap did enough from the free throw line to pull away.
One key possession saw Graves miss the back end of a one-and-one, but the rebound went long and the ball was heading out of bounds. Graves made a diving save along the sideline and punched the ball out to Hatmaker. Hatmaker was later fouled and hit both free throws to essentially put the game out of reach.
The Irish were led by 6-6 forward Chris Cox with a game-high 20 points. He scored 12 in the third quarter to almost single-handedly keep Catholic in the game. He was held to just four in the fourth quarter as the Irish managed just seven points in the final period.
“What I’m most proud of is that we we dug down late in the game and said this is our game and we’re going to win it. Our defense got a lot better and I think the biggest thing I did was switch and put Blake Arnold on (Cox),” Clawson said. “Cox is definitely a college player and he had went off in the third quarter and I put Blake on him and that negated him. Blake did a very good job, even though he’s smaller he moves his feet a lot better. I think that played a big part in us winning down the stretch.”
The game was a defensive struggle early on with the Irish taking away the pick-and-roll that is Cumberland Gap’s bread and butter. Isaac Daniels and Hatmaker scored inside baskets for the Panthers while Kyle Anders had a pair of layups for Catholic and Cox scored once inside. Blake Franklin provided a spark off the bench with a transition layup and later a free throw after getting fouled following another steal. The Panthers led 7-6 after the first quarter.
The second period saw Hatmaker get going with eight points, most off of offensive rebounds. Jordan Anderson scored five of his nine points for Catholic in the second as they kept the score close and trailed just 18-16 at halftime.
“A good defensive team is going to defend the pick-and-roll on the initial side. I was yelling at our guys to be patient because we’ve got to keep moving the basketball from one side to the other. Then we can start breaking down a defense,” Clawson said. “That’s one thing we’re going to work on in practice is developing some patience. When we start reversing the ball and doing that we’re going to become a better offensive basketball team.”
Scoring increased for both teams in the second half as Jordan King hit a pair of transition baskets and Graves started to find driving lanes. After not scoring in the first half, Graves put in nine points in the third quarter. Cox’s 12-point outburst in the period kept the game tight.
“After scrimmaging Harlan County and their zone, we’ve been stressing penetration all week. Trevor did that and he saw what would happen when he penetrated with the basketball. He got a bunch of good looks because when he got in there they were so worried about our big kids they just backed off and he made the shots. I’m very proud because he’s listening and working harder to do that,” Clawson added.
Cumberland Gap went 7-of-14 from the line after establishing a six point lead to go on to the ten-point win.
Both teams return to action Tuesday with Cumberland Gap (1-0) hosting Knox Central as part of a girls/boys double-header and Knoxville Catholic (1-2) visiting CAK.
Clawson is embracing those high expectations for the Panthers and has the team looking forward to big things down the road.
“This team is going to be fun this year. That’s one game out of 30 or more and we’re going to get better every game,” he said. “Our destiny is to be right there in that district championship at the end of the season. Our destiny is to not just settle for that but to be right there in the regional as well. That’s what we’re looking for.”
— — —
Catholic……. 6..10..18…7 — 41
Cumb. Gap…7..11..17.. 16 — 51
KNOXVILLE CATHOLIC (41): Chris Cox 20, Jordan Anderson 9, Ryan Henry 7, Kyle Anders 4, Logan Irwin 1, Conner Ostrowski 0, Joey Cook 0, Patrick McFall 0.
CUMBERLAND GAP (51): Nathan Hatmaker 18, Trevor Graves 13, Isaac Daniels 7, Jordan King 7, Blake Arnold 3, Blake Franklin 3, Austin Anderson 0, Jordan Bullins 0, Matt Wade 0, Tyler Parker 0.