It’s not how you start, but how you finish. Cherokee’s boys proved that to South Forsyth.
The Warriors (2-0) trailed 15-4 at the end of the first quarter, but rallied to force overtime and upend South 59-56 on a 3-pointer from Willie McClure with 5.3 seconds left in the game on Tuesday to win the War Eagle Classic at South.
"If you stay in basketball this long, you’ll have [a heart-breaking loss]," South boys head coach Manson Hill said. "This is just early in the year. It’s great for us to be in [close game] situations. We’ll respond good to it.
"We’ve only been practicing for 14 days. My take is that we need to get better prepared for late-game situations, and that’s my fault. ... [Cherokee] made a lot of great plays, they were very fast, very quick and came with pressure."
McClure’s 3-pointer came off a missed free throw and a quick transition pass that left him alone at the top of the key with Cherokee behind 56-54. He had made only one other shot from the floor all night.
South (1-1) had an opportunity to tie or win the game, but the cross-court pass sailed out of bounds, forcing the War Eagles to foul. McClure sunk both of his free throws to extend the Cherokee lead to three, but a last-second desperation heave fell short of the basket.
The War Eagles led 39-27 to start the fourth quarter, but Cherokee pressured the ball and didn’t allow them an easy look at the basket. The Warriors went on an 11-2 run to shrink the South lead to 41-38 with 4:20 left in regulation.
Douglas Cotter, who finished with a team-high 14 points, hit a layup after being fouled and converted the three-point play to stop the run. Greer Landry added 11 points on the night, while Kevin Sullivan chipped in with nine for South.
After trading buckets, Cherokee’s Ja’Davian Keith (8 points) sunk a 3-pointer to tie the game at 46 apiece with 1:37 left in the quarter. South turned the ball over on its next possession and Armony Parker gave Cherokee its first lead of the game with an easy layup.
The War Eagles’ Jack Armstong (11 points) sent the game into overtime at 48-48 with a steal and score with 20 seconds left to play and gave the team momentum. South jumped out to a 56-50 lead with 1:32 left in overtime, but couldn’t manage another point as Cherokee scored the final nine points.
Cherokee (girls) 49, South Forsyth 36
The Lady War Eagles also fell short with a loss to Cherokee in the championship game of the War Eagle Classic.
The Lady Warriors (2-0) held a slim 34-30 lead going into the fourth quarter, but South’s offense scored just six points in the final eight minutes of play.
"We wanted to set a tempo to our game, but we weren’t able to do that tonight," South girls head coach Keith Gravitt said. "Some of that was due to unforced turnovers. We had 18 [turnovers] in the second half and that makes it difficult [to win] against a good team.
"We have things to look at offensively. ... Maybe sometimes tempo is not the answer and understanding that in the flow of the game we have to take care of the ball better."
Cherokee went on a 15-6 run to close out the fourth quarter and converted three consecutive South turnovers into layups.
Jenna Brannen led the Warriors with 14 points, while Rachel Myers led the Lady War Eagles (1-1) with 11 points and Sarah Myers added nine.
Both South teams will play at Cambridge on Tuesday.