Cavaliers win state-tournament thriller
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
Back and forth they went, matching each other shot by shot, putting on a scoring clinic in a brilliant display of offensive efficiency.
In Saturday’s state-tournament showdown in Homer, Callaway’s Demetrius Coleman and Banks County’s Carl Cleveland combined for nearly 100 points.
They combined to make 29 shots from the field, and they knocked down 30 free throws between them.
When the dust settled and the clock hit zero in overtime, it was Coleman’s Cavaliers who had the upper-hand in an exhilarating game.
Coleman scored 43 points to lead his team to an 86-83 road win as Callaway advanced to the second round of the Class AAAA state tournament.
Callaway will visit Chattooga County on Thursday, with tip-off set for 7 p.m.
That the Cavaliers are still standing is a testament to their resilience, and also to the greatness displayed by Coleman.
Coleman, a first-team all-Region 5-AA player, has had some big games before, but he took it to a new level on Saturday night.
Coleman had all aspects of his offensive game working.
Coleman made 13 shots from the field, including five 3-pointers.
When Coleman wasn’t making shots, he was getting to the free-throw line where he made 12-of-14 attempts.
“It was real fun,” Coleman said. “They’re my brothers, and I love competing with them.”
Callaway head coach Terry Hayes said that no matter what Banks County tried to do defensively, it had no effect on Coleman.
“His outside shooting hasn’t been there, but his outside shooting was there Saturday,” Hayes said. “They tried a box-and-one, and it didn’t do any good. He went to the goal. He stayed in there, and he fought off fatigue.”
Remarkably, Coleman wasn’t even the high scorer in the game.
Cleveland finished with 55 points, and he made 16 shots from the field and was 18-of-23 from the free-throw line.
Cleveland was held to two points in the first quarter, so he had 45 points in the final three quarters and overtime.
The good news for Callaway is that no other Banks County player had more than eight points.
“The biggest thing we did is that, I know (Cleveland) was the main one, but we shut the other guys down,” Hayes said. “The next closest had eight points.”
While Coleman was clearly the Cavaliers’ top threat, junior post player Antinez Blount contributed 18 key points, including six points in overtime.
Javontay Boddie added eight points, Jalin Shephard scored seven points, and Jamichael Park chipped in with six key points, and he was 5-of-6 from the free-throw line.
Coleman got off to a fairly modest start with five points in the first quarter, but he exploded for 18 points in the second quarter.
Coleman made four 3-pointers in the second quarter, and he also made all four of his free-throw attempts.
By the time the halftime break arrived, the Cavaliers had a 36-25 lead.
Banks County wasn’t about to go away quietly.
In the third quarter, spurred on by its home fans, Banks County outscored Callaway 28-20 to get within three points.
It remained tight in the fourth quarter, and Banks County tied it with 44 seconds left in regulation when Cleveland made a pair of free throws.
Both teams had chances to take the lead, but the score remained deadlock, so it was on to overtime.
Despite the disappointment of not winning in regulation, Hayes was confident in his team heading to the four-minute overtime period.
“I told them it was not over, to keep playing,” Hayes said. “We started attacking, and they fouled us. They were fatigued. They didn’t play more than six people, maybe seven. They got wore down, and we started attacking, and we hit our shots, hit our free throws.”
Cleveland scored 10 points in overtime, but it wasn’t enough.
Coleman and Blount combined for nine points in overtime, and Shephard made three clutch free throws in the extra period.
Banks County had the ball at the end, but a potential game-tying 3-pointer missed the mark.
That Cavaliers are moving on in large part because of their ability to make free throws.
For the game, the Cavaliers were 28-of-36 on free-throw attempts.
“We shot the ball,” Hayes said. “We made almost 80 percent of our free throws. We stressed free throws. I said when they foul us, we’ve got to score those points.”
The Cavaliers found a way to win on the road in the state tournament, and that was the only statistic that really mattered.
“It was real fun, to see how my team reacted to that environment,” Blount said. “We all just got together, kept pushing.”
The Cavaliers (13-11) won three games a year ago, and even if they’d lost on Saturday, this season would have been a massive improvement for the program.
Coleman, who started as a freshman last season, didn’t want anything to do with losing, though.
“If you look back at what we went through last year, we couldn’t go out like that,” Coleman said. “We’d come too far.”