The Marshall County Tigers (1-0) gave MCHS basketball fans their money's worth Tuesday night, as they pulled out a thrilling 61-60 home victory over a deep and athletic East Literature Eagle squad in their season opener after rallying from an eight-point fourth quarter deficit.
With Vanderbilt basketball coach Kevin Stallings in attendance to see Marshall County junior forward Kedren Johnson, the Tigers led for much of the first half before East Literature took a 26-25 advantage into the break.
The Eagles (0-1) then pushed their lead to 54-46 midway through the fourth period, but MCHS put together a 12-4 run to tie the game at 58-58. After East Literature pulled back ahead on a basket by Cheau Hendricks, Johnson scored on a layup and Jamie Perryman hit one of two free throws with eight seconds left to give the Tigers a one-point lead before the Eagles came up empty on their final possession.
Although Marshall County came into the contest ranked 8th in the Tennessean's Midstate preseason poll, MCHS coach Jason Tigert expects his team to experience some growing pains this year, but was proud they had the resolve to pull out a close victory.
"How many teams at the double AA level are playing two freshmen and are expected to do big things like we are? We made some mistakes, but it's early in the year and that's what happens when you're young," said Tigert. "There are certain teams that can close out games and know how to win in these types of situtions. The kids did a great job down the stretch tonight and I'm always happy to get a W."
East Literature punished the undersized Tigers in the paint and scored a slew of lay ups inside, while shooting a blistering 56 percent from the field (23-41) and attempting only five three-pointers, hitting two. The Eagles also held a 9-5 edge on the offensive boards and out rebounded Marshall County 27-15 overall.
MCHS finished with only 17 field goals on 49 percent shooting, which included a 5-of-9 effort from three-point range, but knocked down 22-of-33 free throws and committed only nine turnovers. East Literature, conversely, converted just 12-of-22 attempts from the charity stripe and committed 14 turnovers.
Johnson saved his best for last and scored nine of his game high 20 points in the fourth quarter to go along with three assists and two steals. Perryman also tallied 12 points for the Tigers, while Dre Crutcher and Dillon Stinnett added eight and seven points respectively with Crutcher pulling down a team high six rebounds. Kevin Peterson and Barry Mayes each chipped in five points as well, and Jordan Anderson had four points.
Reserve guard Lamont Spencer tallied 13 points to lead a balanced East Literature offensive attack that saw 11 different Eagle players score. Cheau Hendricks also notched 10 points, while Sean McKissak and Dominique Noel-Spaulding tallied eight points apiece. Andre Scott and Carlos Partee each had six points for East Literature as well.
Marshall County got off to a fast start and jumped out to a 12-6 advantage midway through the first quarter behind five points apiece from Johnson and Crutcher.
East Literature rattled off six straight points to tie the game at 12-12 early in the second before MCHS outscored the Eagles 12-8 over the next five and a half minutes to grab a 24-20 lead.
After closing the half with a 6-1 spurt to take a one-point advantage into the break, East Literature opened the third quarter with a 14-9 run to extend their lead to 40-34.
The Tigers then cut the deficit to 40-38 on layups by Anderson and Perryman, before the Eagles responded with a 6-0 spurt to open up a 46-38 advantage early in the fourth.
East Literature still held a 54-46 lead with 4:38 left to play, but MCHS scored the next six points on a runner by Stinnett and four free throws to narrow the gap to 54-52. Following a pair of foul shots by Hendricks, Peterson made one of two free throws and hit a turnaround bank shot before Johnson converted a three-point play with 1:12 left to knot the score at 58-58.
Hendricks hit a short runner in the lane on the Eagles ensuing possession to put East Literature up 60-58, but Johnson scored on a driving layup while being fouled to retie the game at 60-60 with 17 seconds remaining. Although Johnson missed the free throw, Stinnett grabbed the offensive rebound before Perryman was fouled a few moments later.
Perryman then missed the first foul shot, but calmly knocked down the second free throw to give MCHS a tenuous 61-60 lead. On the Eagles' final possession, Hendricks missed an off balance jumper with two seconds left before time expired during the scramble for the loose ball.