12/30/2021: The Cottage School Cougars came back to Pinecrest Academy for the winter tournament’s consolation game versus the Cherokee Christian School Warriors. TCS and CCS used to compete often but not since Cherokee began to flow home school kids throughout their athletic program. Just like Fideles and all home schools, most are very talented as they can pull kids from all kinds of AAU and travel clubs. The Warriors did graduate a few of their college talent but still have two strong guards left and brought in three talented underclassmen. If the Cougars had scoring woes again, this game could also be over by halftime.

The first period seemed to be a repeat of yesterday as TCS only mustered in four points and were down 4-14. And it got worse as Cherokee went up 19 points on three separate occasions until the final minute of the first half, but CCS still held a comfortable 32-15 advantage. Coach Briggs spoke at intermission, “We are again playing outstanding defense. I know this may sound crazy but after we make a couple defensive adjustments and if we can ever go on an offensive run for more than just four or six points, we have a shot to win this game.”

Just what their coach was hoping for happened in the third period. TCS locked down their talented guards, gave up no offensive rebounds, and scored on four straight possessions off teammate assists. Two of those were three pointers; going on a 12-2 run to begin the third stanza. Both teams played evenly for the rest of the quarter as the Warriors still held a 44-35 lead. During this period, Cottage reached within four points twice, but it didn’t last. But now the Cougars were in striking distance, and nobody knew what drama was about to unfold in the final frame.

As great as the Cougars were playing defense, they saved their best for the fourth period. Even the Warriors best player was heard midway through the fourth telling his coach during a dead ball, “They are playing so good on defense we can’t do anything coach!” Cottage had momentum and confidence and in basketball that is all a team needs to believe.

Despite the valiant comeback and shift in momentum Cherokee went on one final 6-0 run and appeared they had locked away the game, up 11 points with only three minutes remaining. But fate did not have it that way as that 11-point cushion was erased by blocked shots and forced turnovers by TCS. The Cougars looked up and found themselves down just 51-47 with 1:18 on the clock and held possession. They break the Warrior press and move the ball around looking for the best shot. After six passes, the ball is passed to Blake Lackey on the right wing. Blake attempts a three pointer, and the angle was off as soon as you saw it leave his hand.

The ball banks off the backboard, hits the rim and rolls in.  The Cougars all jump for joy but were still down 51-50 and without focus could easily give up an easy basket during the excitement. Coach Briggs calls a timeout just before the Warriors threw the ball back in play with .47 seconds left. It was his last but as he said in the timeout, “Guys do not celebrate too early. Let’s wait until we actually do come back and win before we overreact. We need to focus on the next play and that is making one final stop.” The team was instructed to foul but only after a trap, and first go for a steal on the first opportunity given. Aidan Briggs took that opportunity on Cherokee’s second pass jumping the gap.

It pays off as he stole the ball at mid court and had a break away. Aidan makes the layup with .23 seconds remaining. TCS takes its first lead of either day during the tournament ahead 52-51. The Warrior coach calls a timeout to set up a play. The Cougar defense shut that play down, but the ball was deflected out of bounds under their own basket. Unable to call a timeout for TCS, the boys had to just react. CCS fed the ball on the ball-side block to their best player. He made a post move and was fouled shooting but missed the shot. #11-Meder sunk both clutch free throws to regain a 53-52 advantage. Again, Coach Briggs could not call a timeout so yelled across the floor during the foul shots what play to run after the made or missed second shot.

The Cougars ran the press break to perfection as the Warriors full court pressed. They get the ball to Aidan at the top of the key with just 9 seconds remaining. He drives right but is doubled so passed the ball to Blake, who again was wide open in the exact same spot as his banked three pointer. This time his shot misfires. Two Cherokee bodies and Alex Hogg all fight for the rebound just in front of the basket. The ball is deflected backwards into Aidan’s hands. Aidan made his way over to the left side block after he passed to Blake to get in rebounding position, knowing most long shots are missed opposite. This time the ball didn’t bounce opposite but he still got the board on the deflection. He is about 15 feet from the basket and only had 1 second to catch and shoot. He leans back with a fadeaway jumper as a Warrior desperately attempts to block the ball. Because he faded so far back, the shot blocker missed, and his shot is on its way to the rim. The ball hits the back of the rim, then front and through the net as the buzzer sounds.  Ultimate devastation for CCS but euphoria erupts in purple and heard around the crowded gym, who were all there getting ready to start the girl’s championship match.

The entire Cougar bench jumps off their seats and ran on the floor to tackle Aidan, as if the team won a state title.  The Cougars outscore Cherokee 39-21 in the second half. It was one of their largest comebacks in school history. The last dramatic comeback win of this caliber was in 2012 when they came back from 24 points at halftime to defeat North Atlanta Flight (another home travel squad), but they didn’t win at the buzzer. Matter of fact, there has only been one other buzzer beater win in school history and that came in 2010 when the Cougars hit a buzzer in a 78-76 OT thriller at AASD (Jordan Webb).

The win gives the Cougars a 10-4 record to begin the New Year. They come back for two home games next week versus Cross Keys High School on Wednesday and their first GISA region match versus the mighty Furtah Prep Eagles.

Game Notes:

Aidan Briggs led all scorers with 24 points. Matter of fact, his nine points at the half breaks the school record for career points with 1,186 points (Omari Anderson-2010-1,185 points). He now has 1,201 career points and with several games left his senior year. How fitting that Aidan hits a historic buzzer beater on the same night he breaks the point record! Aidan also corralled 8 rebounds, had 2 assists, that key steal, and took a charge.

Alex Hogg battled early foul trouble but played great in the second half. He still finished with a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, including 6 blocks. In the final two minutes, Alex came up with two ginormous offensive rebound putbacks to get the game to 51-47.

Blake Lackey was huge in the second half. He had the assignment of defending their second-best player and three-point specialist (#10-White). Blake held him to just 4 points and added all 10 of his points in the second half, including that clutch bank three-pointer that gave his team a chance for this historic comeback. He added 4 rebounds and 3 steals.

Daniel Byman had the tough task defending #11 all game long. Though the kid still scored 20 points, only 12 of those were on Daniel and that kid is capable of scoring 30. Daniel added 4 points, 7 boards, 6 steals, and 2 assists.

Braden Kramer nailed two bombs in the third period to help cut his teams’ deficit to just four points.  He finished with 6 points but more importantly move the ball so well dishing out 8 assists. He also added 4 steals and a loose ball recovery that aided a run.

Ben Johnson and Jack Kane also did a great job on defense, making key plays throughout. Ben had the assignment of guarding #10 every time Blake checked out. Jack came up with a huge block shot that made a four-point swing in the third period. Instead of CCS going back ahead 11 points his block led to a fastbreak basket and a Warrior timeout as Cottage stayed close, down just seven points.

Alex Yager gave great support and positive energy!