“I think we got a little bit more pep in our step [in] the fourth quarter,” said Colonels coach Greg Scott, whose team was coming off a one-point, overtime loss to Sequoyah on Friday. “We really looked dead-legged and a step slow the first three quarters. I think last night’s game took a lot out of us energy-wise, and that was really a big concern coming into today’s game.
“In eight minutes we were staring at either getting some defensive stops and going ahead and winning or, if they [the War Eagles] continued on, being 0-2 in the region at the end [of the day].”
After scoring at an average of 16 points per quarter through the first three quarters, South Forsyth was held to half that in the fourth.
Cass scored four points to begin the final quarter, erasing a one-point deficit to go ahead 53-50. Mark McCorkle stole a Colonels inbound pass and drilled a corner 3-pointer to put the War Eagles back in front following a South Forsyth free throw.
The Colonels tied the game on a Jozelle Payne foul shot and went ahead, 55-54, on Kelin Wells’ free throw. Cass continued to add to the lead at the charity stripe, and Zeke Reed dropped in a bucket for a 59-54 advantage. The hosts were able to shoot 6-for-7 from the line down the stretch, while holding the War Eagles to just two field goals the rest of the way.
“I think today was a good example of what team play is,” Scott said of the Colonels, who were playing without Tony Mitchell for the sixth game and without Kadeem Sutton for the second time in a row. “Drew McKaig added a little extra scoring punch to us today that we hadn’t been getting. Justin Reed came off the bench today and gave us great minutes and about 8 or 9 points, I think. We got great play from Kelin Wells off the bench. I think today was what you might call a total team effort. We got some scoring production from some people that we really hadn’t been getting it from.
“With Kadeem out of the lineup, that made a big difference.”
Zeke Reed led the way for Cass with a game-high 21 points, also collecting eight rebounds. Other contributors for the Colonels included McKaig, 13 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals; Payne, 11 points, 10 rebounds, three assists; Justin Reed, 9 points, eight rebounds (seven offensive); Wells, 8 points, four assists; and Najae Jackson, 5 points, four rebounds.
Nick Staiti scored a team-high 16 points for South Forsyth, McCorkle added 14 and Greer Landry had 13. Landry also added six boards and two blocks, while Geronimo Cruz had a game-high five assists to go with 5 points.
With Saturday’s game scheduled for a 4:30 p.m. start, Cass had a rather quick turnaround — 16 hours — from its 55-54 defeat to the Chiefs the previous night. And with the War Eagles opening play as they did, things looked bleak early for the home side.
South Forsyth could not miss to start as two 3s from Staiti and one from McCorkle gave it a 9-0 lead before Zeke Reed’s jumper put the Colonels on the board. McCorkle added another shot from downtown to give his team a 12-3 lead, but Cass scored seven straight points — getting the last of those on a Wells 3.
The Colonels tallied the last five points of the first quarter as Justin Reed scored on an offensive rebound and converted a three-point play and Zeke Reed scored at the buzzer to give Cass a 17-15 edge to start the second.
“We were pretty steady scoring once we got started … but, wow, what a 3-point barrage they had at the beginning of the game. [They] came out of the gate firing and [hit] nothing but net, [No.] 23 [Staiti] and [No.] 25 [McCorkle] both,” Scott said of the War Eagles’ good start. “But, we were able to withstand it, didn’t have to call timeout, settled down and got ourselves back in it. … [We] actually led at the end of the first quarter after being down … so for us to be able to do that after last night shows a little bit about our guts and our resiliency and our mental toughness, just to be able to settle down and handle a situation.”
The two teams swapped the lead seven times, and tied twice, in the second quarter but after Jackson’s free throw put the Colonels up 25-24, South Forsyth closed the half on an 11-5 run as Staiti and McCorkle each connected from deep once during the stretch.
The game stood at 36-30 as both teams headed to the locker room.
Cass made a run at the War Eagles in the third quarter as Reed and McKaig answered Staiti’s third-quarter opening 3 with back-to-back trifectas to pull the Colonels with three at 39-36. McKaig had another shot from 3-point range go in to keep his team close at 44-41.
South Forsyth, however, extended the lead to 48-41. Cass then answered by scoring eight of the quarter’s last 10 points, cutting the lead to one — 50-49 — on a pair of McKaig free throws with less than 30 seconds remaining in the third.
It would set up another gutsy finish from the Colonels, who came away with the win a night after falling a point shy of a victory.
“Last night might have been the [gutsiest] effort that I’ve had a team give in 21 years,” Scott said. “We’re still playing without Tony, we played without Kadeem last night. We played seven people in that game last night against a team that played … 11 people. Jozelle may have had the best game of his four-year career.”
The Cass head coach said the region battle was a game of runs.
“They’d go up, we’d come back, take the lead. We’d go up, they’d come back. We had a lead at halftime [26-20], had a lead at the end of the third quarter by one [35-34],” Scott continued. “We hit a shot and tied it, and then Jozelle blocked a shot [attempt] for them that put it in overtime. I think Zeke hit a shot that put us ahead by two in overtime or made a couple of free throws, and then Logan Taylor for them, No. 0, hit the only 3 of the game — the only points he scored the whole game was a winning shot from the corner, hit it with six seconds.
“We called timeout, had 6.3 seconds. We got off the shot we wanted; we got Jozelle right in the middle of the lane, shot just didn’t fall.”
He said the Colonels had some tough calls go against them on the road but played through adversity to deliver a gutsy effort.
“We had some kids play a lot of minutes and laid it all on the line last night and if they’ll do that … I feel good about where we’ll be at the end,” Scott said.
Against Sequoyah, Payne scored 24; Reed added 17; Jackson contributed with 5; Andrew Hunt had 4; and Jairus Blackwell and Wells both scored 2 apiece. The Chiefs were led by Alex Miller’s 19, Solomon Ajose’s 13 and Blane White’s 10.
Cass (5-2, 1-1) returns to action Friday with a region home game against Creekview (6-2, 3-0). Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.