Author: Seth Butler Source: The Newport Plain Talk
GATLINBURG—Up against one of the best teams in East Tennessee, the Cosby Eagles were in need of one of their best performances of the year.
The Eagles had a hot start in the game and used a pivotal 15-4 run over the final 5:30 of the third quarter to pull away from Gatlinburg-Pittman.
Despite using that run to lead by as many at 16, Cosby had to survive a fourth quarter onslaught for an 84-79 win over the No. 7 ranked Highlanders. Tuesday’s loss was only the second this year for Gatlinburg-Pittman, who also lost on their home floor to Cocke County High School on November 21.
“I thought we played well, executed well and played extremely hard,” Cosby coach Brad Flatford said.
“Our kids battled, they deserved to win tonight - all the credit goes to them."
Cosby (9-8) had a balanced scoring effort in the game, placing four players in double-figures, led by Jordan Self’s 27-point night. Kyal Clevenger, who left the game with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter, scored 18, Bryson Valentine added 15 and Derrick Norris had 11.
“We shot the ball well from the perimeter and was able to go inside and get some baskets in the third quarter,” Flatford said.
Flatford credited the start to each half in Tuesday night’s game as being critical in the Eagles’ win. Cosby started the game with solid shooting, leading by as many as six points in the period. Self scored 10 of his points in the quarter and the Eagles knocked down five of their nine three-point baskets on the night.
“I think (the start) did set a tone,” Flatford said. “We talked about with our guys that we had to be mentally ready to play, because if we weren’t we knew they were good enough to run us out of here."
Although the Highlanders (18-2) went on a 14-4 run over the first five minutes of the second period, the Eagles were able to close on an 8-2 run of their own to close the gap to 38-36 at halftime.
Clevenger scored six straight points in the final 2:20 of the half, which set the tone for what was to come in the third period. The Cosby junior scored all 18 points in a 10-minute span, ranging from the end of the first half through the third period. Clevenger missed all but 30 seconds of the fourth quarter after turning his already bad ankle, which caused him to miss several games in the early portion of the season.
Both teams also played the game without their starting point guards. Cosby's Cody Valentine missed the game with illness, while Highlanders' guard Thomas Mackey sat out due to injury.
“We mentioned (going to Clevenger) before the half and actually went to him before the half was over on a couple of possessions and got him some easy baskets,” Flatford said. “In the third, we kept going to him because they didn’t have much of an answer for him.
“Along the way, we hit some shots from the perimeter as well, which kind of opened it up a little bit more for him,” Flatford said. “It’s unfortunate he turned his ankle late in the game, but he was a big part of why we won this game.”
The start that Clevenger created in the second half, part of a 15-2 run in the third period, was critical for the Eagles’ chances at winning the game.
“We talked about at half, that the first four minutes of the second half were critical, and we came out like gangbusters to start the third and built up a fairly large lead,” Flatford said.
With the Eagles leading 60-49 entering the fourth quarter, the game was anything but over. Cosby had to survive a fourth quarter onslaught by the Highlanders, who posted 30 points in the final period. Clay Leatherwood, who led all scorers with 33 points, and Steffan Schroeder almost single-handedly brought their team back into contention for the win. The duo combined for 27 points over the final eight minutes.
“It was hard, really difficult,” said Flatford of finding ways to guard Leatherwood. “Not only is he such a good shooter and scorer, but he’s also an excellent passer and he makes guys around him better.
“They’re hard to guard, they’ve got two guys that can flat out play offensively,” Flatford said.
Even with the Highlanders making a run, the Eagles made several critical plays in the period. A four-point play by Self with 5:26 left gave the Eagles a 14-point lead.
Gatlinburg-Pittman whittled the lead back down to 10 points, but then Norris hit a pair of free throws, Self got a three-point play and Valentine sank two more free-throws to put the Eagles up 79-63 with 2:26 left.
However, Leatherwood scored five straight points in a 15 second span to get back to within 11 with 2:04 left in the game.
Gatlinburg-Pittman, which capitalized on a number of Cosby turnovers down the stretch after Self fouled out, pulled to within 82-76 with 52.8 seconds left, but a crucial layup that beat the Highlanders press by reserve Chandler Duckett sealed the victory with 25.3 remaining.
Schroeder hit a 3-pointer with 18.3 seconds left to cut the lead to five, but the Eagles held on despite missing four free-throws down the stretch.
“We kind of had to nurse it and hold on to the game at the end,” Flatford said. “I would’ve liked to see us finish the game a lot better, because I didn’t feel we took care of it or was strong with the ball.
“But even when we had to get defensive stops and late rebounds, we did that,” Flatford said. “We held on - that’s what counts.”
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