NEW TAZEWELL, Tenn. — A superb defensive effort carried the Cumberland Gap Panthers to a 69-37 win over West Greene in the first round of the District 2-AA Tournament Thursday.
The Panthers held West scoreless for the first 3:30 as they built a 7-0 lead. Up by ten early in the second period, Cumberland Gap kept the Buffaloes off the board for the final 7:00 of the half and went into the locker room with a commanding 41-12 advantage.
With the big lead, CGHS was able to rest their starters and let the JV team play for most of the second half as they coasted to the 32-point win.
Coach Ernie Clawson said that not only winning, but putting on such a strong performance was important for a team with district title aspirations.
“It means a lot. I was scared because of the performance we had on this same floor last Monday against Claiborne. We’ve obviously not played well here,” he said. “West Greene had been playing well, they beat South Greene by 17 points on their floor and scored 81 points against David Crockett (a AAA school). So it was big for us to come out and just negate everything they wanted to do offensively. I’m proud of the kids, they just kept fighting and kept digging defensively.”
Both teams battled through some early jitters as neither team scored for nearly two minutes. Senior Blake Arnold drew a foul on a drive down the lane and hit both free throws to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead at the 6:06 mark of the first quarter.
Senior forward Nathan Hatmaker blocked a shot on the other end and a steal by Blake Franklin led to an Arnold basket. Franklin had three more steals over the next four Buffalo possessions. He converted one into a free throw and pushed the ball ahead to Trevor Graves for a layup on another as the lead grew to 7-0.
West was held to a pair of 3s from Cole Christopher and Jordan Fillers and a basket by Tyler Earley in the first quarter.
Center Isaac Daniels scored four points in the first as did Jordan Bullins off the bench. They both finished with 12 points to lead all scorers. By then end of the first quarter the lead was 20-8.
“Defensively, I couldn’t ask them to play any better. We came out and had a determination about us on that end and that’s the reason we jumped out on them early,” Clawson said. “Tonight was the fastest we’ve looked in a long time and our defense led to easy points in transition.”
A long two-pointer from Tanner Earley got West within 22-12 at the 7:00 mark of the second quarter, but the Buffaloes wouldn’t score again the rest of the half.
Daniels scored six points in the second period while Hatmaker and Jordan King added four points each. Baskets from Tyler Parker and Bullins pushed the lead to 41-12 by halftime.
“I thought we took them out of their offense,” Clawson said. “They couldn’t do anything, we just pushed them out of their offense. It was an outstanding effort.”
While everyone contributed to the defensive effort, it was spearheaded by Franklin’s steals in the early going and King, another senior, kept up that intensity when he came in off the bench.
“Blake Franklin has really come on in these last few games. He had struggled early after taking a year off from basketball and it’s took him most of the season to get back in that groove. Now he’s starting to pick it up defensively and his offense is coming around,” Clawson added. “Jordan is our defensive stopper. He’ll come in and get in your grill and stay there the whole time. He moves his feet very well and it was an outstanding effort from those two tonight.”
Baskets from Daniels and Graves pushed the lead to 45-12 before Christopher scored at the 6:51 mark of the third quarter to end West’s drought. Not long after, Clawson removed his starters. Parker finished with 11 points off the bench and Cumeberland Gap went on to the 32-point win.
West Green ends the season with a record of 5-19. Christopher led them with 10 points while Fillers added nine.
Cumberland Gap (17-9) advances to the semifinals where they’ll meet the winner of today’s Claiborne vs. Chuckey-Doak game at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.
— — —
W. Greene……8…..4…11…14 — 37
Cumb. Gap…20…21…16…12 — 69
WEST GREENE (37): Cole Christopher 10, Jordan Fillers 9, Tanner Earley 5, Kaleb Julian 4, Tyler Earley 4, Derrick Livingston 3, Taran Hurst 2, Tanner Lambert 0, Toby Bostroem 0, Dylan Kirk 0, Braxton Potter 0.
CUMBERLAND GAP (69): Isaac Daniels 12, Jordan Bullins 12, Tyler Parker 11, Trevor Graves 8, Nathan Hatmaker 6, Jordan King 6, Austin Anderson 6, Blake Arnold 4, Hunter Bayless 3, Blake Franklin 1, Matt Wade 0, Adam Jenkins 0.