HARROGATE, Tenn. — After watching an early 16-point lead disappear, the Cumberland Gap Panthers scored the game’s final nine points to pull out a 53-44 senior night win over Grainger on Tuesday.
“I thought we came out hot. The press looked great. It was high-intensity, senior night and the kids came out with determination — they were ready to play,” said Cumberland Gap coach Ernie Clawson. “To open it back up after letting them come back showed a lot of character and a lot of poise. Instead of freaking out because we lost the lead we turned it on and I’m very proud of them for that.”
Senior center Isaac Daniels had a huge game despite dealing with foul trouble for much of the second half. Daniels scored a game-high 24 points before fouling out and was key in both building the early lead and putting the Panthers back on top late.
“You know, Isaac started out his career here as a wing player. When I came in we stuck him in the post and coach (Kent) Hatmaker has done an outstanding job with him,” said Clawson. “He’s got high intensity and if Isaac scores then he does other things well. He’s got that physical stature and power — there are a lot of aspects about Isaac that helps this team win — but his will-power a lot of times helps us to overcome the odds.”
It was the final home game for seven seniors — Daniels, Nathan Hatmaker, Trevor Graves, Blake Arnold, Matt Wade, Jordan King and Blake Franklin — and Cumberland Gap came out playing like there was no tomorrow. Pressing from the start, they forced the Grizzlies into six turnovers as the Panthers opened up an 18-2 lead over the first five minutes.
Daniels scored 11 of those points, making one free throw and then five shots in the paint. Hatmaker and Graves also had baskets during the run and Wade knocked down a deep 3-pointer. Wade’s shot made it 12-2 at the 5:15 mark of the first quarter and Daniels final basket made it 18-2 with 3:05 to go in the period.
Grainger hadn’t scored since a Trey Cabbage basket in the first minute until Corey Bates was fouled on 3-point attempt with 2:24 left in the first. Bates hit all three free throws and the Grizzlies got baskets from Thomas Moran and Clint Colt to cut the lead to 18-9 by the end of the quarter.
The Grizzlies were able to handle the press better in the second quarter and slowly continued to chip away at the lead. Threes from Bates, Bailey Lamb and Moran help bring Grainger within 30-25 by halftime.
“We slacked off there and it’s something we’ve got to work on as a group. When we get teams down we’ve got to put them away,” Clawson said.
In the second half the pace of the game favored Grainger and they got baskets from Cabbage and Lamb to get within three. Daniels picked up his fourth foul with 6:01 to go in the third and sat out the rest of the quarter.
Lamb hit one jumper to tie the game at 33, then, after a Darrell Walker steal, hit another from about 15 feet out to give the Grizzlies their only lead of the game with 2:25 to play in the third.
A Panther steal led to a Franklin layup with under 2:00 to go in the quarter and it was still 35-all going into the fourth.
Graves opened the final period with a 3-pointer and a steal led to a Jordan Bullins layup and a 40-35 Panther lead. Three Cumberland Gap turnovers helped the Grizzlies pull back even as Moran hit one free throw and then Lamb converted both ends of the bonus with 3:28 to play to tie the game at 44.
Daniels was fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound and hit one free throw to put the Panthers back in front. Grainger missed a 3-pointer and Daniels scored inside at the other end and it was 47-44 with 2:48 on the clock.
“I thought Isaac did an excellent job posting and sealing hard, getting offensive rebounds and putbacks. Nathan again was a beast on the boards. Trevor did a pretty good job running the offense. We made shots when we needed to,” Clawson said.
Lamb misfired on two more 3-pointers around a Panther turnover and Daniels hit two more free throws with 1:13 to play to stretch the lead to five. Hatmaker came away with a loose ball and King was fouled with 55 seconds to go and hit both ends of the bonus to put the game out of reach.
Grainger missed one shot from the field and three free throws down the stretch while Cumberland Gap also missed the front end of the bonus twice before Arnold hit two free throws with twelve seconds left to set the final at 53-44.
Lamb finished with 11 points to lead Grainger while Corey Bates and Moran finished with ten each.
Daniels was the only Panther to reach double-figures, but they had eight different players to score at least two points. Hatmaker finished with seven, Franklin six, Graves five, King four, Wade three and Arnold and Bullins scored two apiece.
Clawson talked after the game about his seven seniors.
“I’m proud of all these kids, they’ve adjusted to how I coach and that was a big adjustment for them. Blake Arnold, I’ve coached him since he was in fifth grade and you know every night he’s going to give you 110-percent. Nathan Hatmaker and Isaac are the same way, you know what you’re going to get out of them every night,” he said. “Jordan King is an excellent role player and he came in tonight and did an excellent job on (Lamb). Things like that go unnoticed in the stands, but those little things mean a lot.
“Blake Franklin gave us a spark and he and Matt Wade also do those little things that make a big difference for us. I can’t say enough about Trevor, lately he’s been lighting it up. Tonight wasn’t his best night shooting, but he’s going to be a key force for us down the stretch and I believe he’ll knock those shots down and run this team.”
Both teams will be back in action on Friday with Cumberland Gap (13-6, 6-2 in District 2-AA) visiting arch-rival Claiborne while Grainger (10-12, 4-5) hosts Chuckey-Doak.
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Cumb. Gap…18…12….5…18 — 53
GRAINGER (44): Bailey Lamb 11, Corey Bates 10, Thomas Moran 10, Trey Cabbage 6, Logan Bates 4, Clint Colt 2, Darrell Walker 1, Jarrod Brown 0.
CUMBERLAND GAP (53): Isaac Daniels 24, Nathan Hatmaker 7, Blake Franklin 6, Trevor Graves 5, Jordan King 4, Matt Wade 3, Blake Arnold 2, Jordan Bullins 2, Austin Anderson 0, Adam Jenkins 0, Tyler Parker 0.