Cougars Clip Spartans With Clutch Free Throws
DENVER—Fueled by a furious fourth quarter rally and some clutch, late-game free throws, the Cherokee Trail Cougars defeated the Thomas Jefferson Spartans 71-70 Saturday afternoon.
This contest was the classic match-up of the apprentice facing the master. Morgan Gregory, the first year head coach of the Cougars, was on the Thomas Jefferson coaching staff for the previous seven years. Gregory is a good friend of Thomas Jefferson’s head coach Grant Laman, who is in his tenth year as the general of the Spartans. Gregory was Laman’s assistant for almost the entire last decade, which made this victory a little more unique for Coach Gregory.
“This victory is bittersweet man. I’m not going to lie. TJ played hard and left it all out there. I hate to see them hang their heads, but I’m proud of my guys too,” Gregory said.
“I will always take the W, but I feel bad for the TJ guys. I still got a lot of feelings for those guys. So I hate to see them down like that.”
The Spartans were hanging their heads because they squandered a sizeable fourth quarter lead. With only a few minutes remaining, TJ led 64-55. But Cherokee Trail cranked up their press defense, forced three straight turnovers, and the Cougars cut the TJ lead to only two points.
The remainder of the game was back and forth and clutch free throws ended up being the determining factor. With less than a minute remaining, the contest was tied at 69 apiece. Spartan point guard Antonio Clark was at the line shooting two. Clark swished the first and clanked the second, opening the door for the Cougars.
On the ensuing possession, Clark fouled Cougar guard Scott Hatcher, who then faced two pressure packed free throws of his own. Cool as a cucumber, Hatcher knocked them both down to put the Cougars up 71-70.
A desperation three from TJ’s Treyvon Andres bounced off the back rim on the next play, securing the victory for Cherokee Trail.
The pressure packed free throws did not faze Hatcher, who finished the game with 15 points, none more clutch than his final two.
“This is my senior year. I was just thinking I got to hit this for the team and end this,” Hatcher said. “It felt really good. Really good.”
Coach Gregory could not have been happier for Hatcher, who has been facing some tough life battles off the court as well.
“He’s a tough kid man; got a lot going on. His mom is real sick from cancer and it’s been a couple tough months for him. For him to step up and do that, I am very proud of him and very happy for him.”
Jay Nelson led all Cougars in scoring notching 24 points, including four 3-pointers.
Eric Andres led the Spartan’s charge. He had 20 points in the losing effort, an effort which had Coach Laman disappointed.
“It was a competitive game back and forth, but from my standpoint, we did some dumb things to lose it in the end, ” said Laman, who, despite the loss, echoed the feelings of mutual respect between him and his former comrade.
“I’m happy for him (Gregory) winning every game unless it’s against the Spartans. Let’s put it this way. Cherokee Trail is my second favorite team in the state.”
“It is special beating TJ. And it’s always going good going against Grant,” said Gregory, who owes a lot of what he knows to his former colleague. “He helped me out so much to get where I am at.”
With the victory, Cherokee Trail improved their record to 6-5 (0-2). Thomas Jefferson dropped to 6-9 (0-0), with league play starting next week.
Both of TJ’s starting guards, Antonio Clark and Jordan Roland, fouled out before the last play. This proved crucial as TJ wasn’t able to set up their offense and their last shot was a desperate attempt…Cherokee Trail’s Jay Nelson, who led his team in scoring, was playing in only his second game as a Cougar. He transferred from Montbello and had to sit out the first half of the season….TJ led after every quarter, except for the fourth…TJ’s Treyvon Andres swished an off-balance buzzer beater at the end of the third quarter…This was the second time these two teams played this season. TJ won the first game 51-50, making the cumulative score total from both games deadlocked at 121-121….