CANTON — It wasn’t until the second half, but the Cherokee Warriors were eventually able to get the game speed right where they wanted it.
Cherokee defeated Marietta 84-50 on Saturday in Cherokee’s historic gym and it was about as complete a victory as a team can hope for nearing the midpoint of a season. The Warriors (9-1) used multiple versions of trapping zone defenses throughout the game to speed up Marietta’s offense and disrupt the offensive flow of the Blue Devils. As a result, the Warriors won their fifth-straight game while posting their highest scoring output of the season.
“Markus (Hood) is a really good coach and (Marietta) has a really young team,” Cherokee coach Roger Kvam said. “They were hard to guard because they could all shoot and they ran good action. I thought the difference was we did a better job of moving the ball on offense in the second half and getting easier baskets.”
Offensively, Cherokee was led by its dynamic trio of Taihland Owens, Elijiah Tucker and Zack Vickers who combined for 72 of the team’s 84 points. Tucker led the way with 29 points on an impressive 12-for-15 shooting from the field while adding five rebounds and three steals. Owens finished with 27 points while adding a team-high seven rebounds, five assists and five steals. Vickers finished with 16 points and five rebounds.
“Zack (Vickers) has been so good for us on the glass lately and then Elijiah (Tucker) is just a handful,” Kvam said. “He’s just hard to guard. He’s hard for everybody to guard.”
Tucker asserted himself immediately, scoring nine first-quarter points. Following a fast break dunk on an alley-oop, Tucker converted a basket plus the foul and help Cherokee build a 19-12 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Cherokee seemed to make its move toward the end of the second quarter when its defensive pressure became too much for Marietta. Junior guard Bennett Ulm’s steal and subsequent layup near the end of the second quarter seemed a microcosm of the game. Marietta was forced to call a timeout following the play and Cherokee held a 38-33 lead at the half.
“Bennett Ulm is our best defensive player,” Kvam said. “He’s got great length and he’s just smart. He knows angles and he likes the challenge of guarding good players. It’s hard to take him off the floor because he’s so good defensively.”
Led by Owens, Ulm and Matt Snyder, the Warriors’ high pressure defense continued into the third quarter where Cherokee outscored Marietta 20-10. Cherokee recorded 12 steals in the game and as Marietta slowly extended its own defense higher up the floor the Warrior guards began to pick apart the Blue Devil’s defense for layups.
Tucker went back to work after halftime, scoring 13 points in the third quarter, while Owens found scored 13 of his own in the fourth quarter. Early in the fourth, Vickers rebounded a missed free throw by Marietta and finished a basket plus the foul on the other end off an assist from Owens. The Warriors handled the Marietta pressure effectively and cruised to victory.
“You know we lost to North Cobb in overtime and we’re a basket away from have no losses,” Kvam said. “But maybe that was good for us in a way. We have a lot to work on still and I think we can be better. We’ll have to be better down the road because we have a lot of good teams just in our region. We’ve got our work cut out for us but it’s been a nice start to the season.”
Cherokee will play at 5:30 p.m.on Thursday against Cedartown.