In a game where a couple of zeroes fought to be heroes, Rome's Caleb Byrd won the personal scoring battle with Cass' Jacquez Fountain. Byrd's Wolves also came out on top in a narrow 70-69 win over the Colonels on Tuesday night in the quarterfinals of the Region 7-AAAAA tournament at Kell.
Byrd put up a game-high 33 points to help Rome qualify for the Class 5A state tournament, while Fountain carried Cass with 31 in the final time he'll pull on his No. 0 Colonels jersey.
The teams entered the fourth quarter of their see-saw contest knotted at 52-52. Cass (13-13) held the lead for the opening few minutes of the period after 6-foot-4 freshman Zaylan Chaney stepped outside and stroked home a 3-pointer.
However, Rome countered with a 10-0 run to seize control. The Colonels scored five points in a roughly 15-second span to pull with 70-69 on Ethan Carter's corner 3. The Wolves, though, managed to run out the final eight seconds without drawing a foul from the Colonels.
"We had some uncharacteristic turnovers, missed a few [shots] around the bucket that we don't normally miss and there were pockets of time when we didn't play the level of defense that I've been unbelievably proud of," Cass head coach Sean Glaze said. "Those are things, when you're playing a team like Rome which has a very, very special player and some good kids around him, we just put ourselves in a spot where we paid for some of the mistakes that we made."
Cass struggled to find openings against Rome's zone defense in the first quarter. Eventually, the outside shots began to fall with Jordan Ford hitting a pair of shots from deep and Justice Hayes and Braxton Benham also connecting from beyond the arc.
Byrd, though, proved to once again be virtually unstoppable on the offensive end. The junior had 14 points in the opening period to help Rome (16-10) build a 21-16 advantage after one. Cass clamped down as much as possible on Byrd the rest of the way, seeing his scoring by quarter drop from nine to seven to three.
Meanwhile, the Colonels' own star player started to find his rhythm. Fountain had 12 points in the second quarter and Ford hit his third triple to give Cass a slight 35-33 edge at halftime.
Fountain was back at in the third quarter, posting 11 points to help keep the Colonels tied entering the final period. Hayes also added four of his 11 points in the third before fouling out in the fourth.
Tuesday night marked the final game at Cass for seniors Fountain, Hayes and Carter, who had five of his seven points in the fourth quarter. Following a gut-wrenching loss to end their career, Glaze admitted there's not much comfort he can provide in the immediate aftermath of the game other than to say "that you love them."
"There's not a whole lot you can say in that moment to make the sting go away," he said. "While we're not where we want to be and not we're not where we're going to be, those guys in the locker room aren't where they used to be in terms of where we started the season.
"There's a lot that I know we as coaches and they as players wish we could get back and do differently. That will just make us better in the offseason. Grateful for all our seniors have done, and we'll work to see if we can help them during the spring. Then we'll come back to work to make sure this doesn't happen again."
The Colonels will return several players who saw significant time this season. That core group of underclassmen includes Ford, one of the few juniors on the team; sophomores Benham, Zay Jackson and C.J. Pipkin; and freshmen Chaney and Jaylon Johnson.
"We have a chance to get better if we learn and use this as some fuel in our offseason to make sure we're not in that situation moving forward," Glaze said. "... It will be a nice opportunity for them to come back in the offseason and begin to build, like we did this year, towards a finish a little bit further down the line."