BELL BUCKLE — The Cascade Champions (26-5) opened the Region 4-AA tournament with a strong 81-67 victory over the visiting LEAD Academy Panthers (5-19) as Lucas Clanton led the way with a …
BELL BUCKLE — The Cascade Champions (26-5) opened the Region 4-AA tournament with a strong 81-67 victory over the visiting LEAD Academy Panthers (5-19) as Lucas Clanton led the way with a game-high of 23 points while Isaac McElroy gave them a huge spark off the bench with 19 of his own.
Four total Champions reached double-digits on the night and accounted for 75 of Cascade’s total on only one three-point make.
A large portion of Cascade’s success came from running through their offense and moving the ball around until they found a crease in the defense for a shot inside or a chance at the free throw line after being fouled, and that was the game plan coming into the game for head coach Chris Lawson.
“We thought if we reversed the ball a few times and ran our offense, then we could get it in the middle for some shots inside,” he said.
“If they did a good job of rotating on defense, then we could just kick it out for a shot. The majority of our open looks were from inside tonight.”
Doing so put the Champions at the free throw line a total of 39 times throughout the night where they knocked down 28, with 11 coming in the fourth quarter and seven in the final two minutes.
It wasn’t always easy for the Champions though as LEAD Academy made it a battle early and later in the third quarter to cut it to single digits.
After Cascade got out to a 5-2 lead over the first two minutes of the contest, the Panthers answered back with a 7-0 run to take a four point lead with just under four minutes to go.
The Champions regained the lead two minutes later after a pair of baskets from McElroy and an old-fashioned three-point play from Clanton to make it 12-9.
Clanton and Saebyn Burris closed the quarter with a pair of free throws each for a 16-12 advantage after one frame.
Burris added two more free throws to start the second quarter before LEAD cut their deficit to two points with back-to-back layups over the first minute of the second, but that was the closest it would be for the rest of the game.
Cascade went on a 12-0 run to take a 30-16 lead at the four minute and 41 second mark of the quarter, and after a Panthers’ timeout, the Champions went on a 5-0 run for their largest lead of the game at 35-16.
Clanton and McElroy accounted for seven points each over that span.
“He’s been huge for us off the bench,” Lawson said. “Really what he brings is an inside presence, so it forces teams to focus more down there which opens up some things on the outside. He does a really good job of picking and choosing when to pass or score. The rest of the guys have found their rhythm with him out there.”
The two squads traded baskets over the final two minutes of the second frame, but LEAD was able to shave some points off their deficit with a pair of three-pointers from Brandon Fields and Kam’ron House.
Cascade held a 41-29 lead at the half.
The Panthers cut into Cascade’s double-digit lead with a balanced attack over the first four minutes of the third quarter, but the Champions were able to extend it back to a 12-point advantage until the final minute when LEAD closed out the frame on a 5-0 run to make it 55-50 going into the final eight minutes.
After a 11-2 run by the Champions to open the final frame, the Panthers cut their deficit down to single-digits two more times over the final two minutes of the game, but Cascade knocked down timely free throws down the stretch to secure the win.
“Our guys are gonna play all the way to the end regardless of what the score or situation is,” Lawson said. “We have to keep doing a good job of playing defense, rebounding, and making other teams guard us to keep winning.”
The Champions will meet Whites Creek in the region semifinals at Community High School on Tuesday night with tipoff set for 6 p.m.
Cascade 16 25 14 26 — 81
LEAD 12 17 21 17 — 67
Cascade: Lucas Clanton 23, Isaac McElroy 19, Thomas Gentry 17, Jackson Davis 16, Saebyn Burris 4, Jayden Gulick 2.
LEAD: Kam’ron House 16, A.J. Petway 16, Mohammuel Kamel 10, Darnell Seay 9, Brandon Fields 8, Russell Simmons 6, Balin Gaines Stevenson 2.
3-Point goals: LEAD (7): Fields 2, House 2, Petway, Seay, Simmons; Cascade (1): Gentry.
Halftime score: Cascade 41, LEAD 29.