High School Boys Basketball:
Thursday, February 18, 1999
By Greg Alvord
Whew! is the word that can best describe the game here at Evesham between the Cherokee Chiefs (10-9) and the #1 team in the Olympic American Conference, the Cherry Hill East Cougars (17-2). The Chiefs scored an upset of Godzilla-like proportions against the Cougars in a highly entertaining game.
The first quarter saw both teams open up with aggressive man to man defense. The Cougars, being the premier team in the area, had to figure that every night is going to be a battle and this night would be exactly that. With both teams playing physical ball, the teams traded baskets. With the score 5-4 in the Cougars favor, Cherry Hill East showed why they are perceived so highly as they exploded on an 11-0 run to end the quarter, 16-4. Big Kawame Biney and Jeff Pela led the spurt for the Cougars.
With the opportunity to go into a shell and give in to the Cougars, the Chiefs could have given up. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The second quarter saw inspired hustling defense by the Chiefs that resulted into a slow but steady comeback. The inside-outside play of Cherokee's Ryan Hewitt lead to seven straight points. A tremendous cross-lane bounce pass by Doug Cusick to Jamal Williams, who finished off the play with a sweet George Gervin like finger roll, cut the East lead to five. The quarter ended with Cherry Hill East up 21-16 and wondering if they let the Chiefs off the ropes and back into the game.
An inspirational, "you gotta believe in yourself" speech by Cherokee's Coach Powell sparked the Chiefs as the third quarter began. Dazzling inside moves by Cherokee's big men, Erhart and Hewitt, pulled the fired up Chiefs within 1 point, 21-20. Then the Cougars got down to business as they tried to stop the Cherokee momentum. The Cougars relied on Ed Santos and Matt Minoff to apply the inside defensive pressure. A tremendous steal, behind the back-no look pass, by Cusick to a driving, twisting Mike Scanzano tied the game at twenty-two. The teams traded points until a monstrous blocked shot by East's Minoff led to his own long range 3-pointer, which gave the Cougars a 27-26 advantage. The quarter ended with the Cougars up 29-28.
The final quarter, which was a fourth quarter that may go down in the annals of Cherokee history, saw the aggressive play of East start to haunt them in the form of foul trouble. The Chiefs continued to attack the inside like a piranha after prey. A free throw by Hewitt gave Cherokee its first lead of the game, 30-29. The teams exchanged points until the game was tied at 38. The Cougars relied on big 3-pointers by Pela and Bullock. The Chiefs garnered their points all from the free throw line. The two key offensive rebounds off of missed free throws by Cherokee's Cusick kept the Chiefs alive. The stage was now set for the heart pounding finally. With 15 seconds left and Cherokee holding possession, the Cougar's defense shut down all avenues of scoring and forced the Chiefs to call timeout with TWO seconds remaining. After instructions from the bench, both teams returned to the court in the now "Palestra-like" atmosphere. With Cherokee's Erhart setting a hard pick for Mike Scanzano, the junior guard received the inbound pass. Being well behind the 3-point line, at an unbelievable "NBA" three point range and then some, Scanzano took the pass. The determined Scanzano let fly a shot that was smoother than a slab of butter on a hot piece of "corn on the cob". The jumper found nothing but net as the buzzer sounded. The jubilant crowd rushed to the floor to celebrate one of the finest games this writer has seen in Cherokee's history.
Cherokee: Cusick 3, Scanzano 5, Cuneo 4, Hewitt 15, Erhart 8, Williams 6
Cherry Hill East: Pela 8, Santos 5, Bullock 7, Biney 8, Minoff 10
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