MARIETTA — Through unexpected circumstances, last Saturday’s game quelled a few concerns for Cherokee coach Roger Kvam.
Playing in the opening game of the Tournament of Champions Showcase at Kell High School, Cherokee defeated Dutchtown 55-40. The Warriors earned the win despite missing multiple starters and finding itself in early foul trouble.
They pulled away in the second half behind it’s senior duo of Taihland Owens and Elijiah Tucker but Kvam said it was the play of several bench players who spelled starters through the first half of the contest.
“I thought we were fortunate to be in the game at halftime against a pretty disciplined team,” Kvam said. “We got in foul trouble real early and were forced to play a lot of guys who really haven’t played much. We put in Braylin Giddens in the game and, without scoring, he really changed the game. He and Destin Hart, they both came in and gave us a lot of energy.”
Giddens finished with a team-high four assists, two rebounds and one steal while Hart finished with four rebounds.
The sophomores helped Cherokee (13-3) stay within striking distance against the reigning Class AAAAA state champions. Through its effective half court offense, Dutchtown led 10-8 at the end of the first quarter and controlled most of the play in the first two quarters.
“The biggest thing is scouting report defense, paying attention to what we’re talking about,” Kvam said. “We were concerned a little but about our depth but I was really pleased to see contributions from kids who haven’t played a lot. It’s fun to see guys get opportunities and they’re ready.”
Tayden Owens’ jump shot to end the second quarter gave Cherokee a 19-18 lead, but Dutchtown came out with a 7-0 run to start the third. Cherokee answered with an 11-0 run of its own, capped off by a dunk by Tucker. After sitting out for the majority of the first half, Taihland Owens began to heat up, finishing with 19 second-half points en route to a game-high 21. Tucker finished with 18 points. Dutchtown was led by Jared Waddell who had 10 points.
The Warriors led 37-30 at the end of thee quarters and once Owens and Tucker began to play together, Cherokee began to pull away. Owens connected on a 3-pointer to begin the fourth quarter — finishing 3-for-6 from beyond the arc — and was followed by a basket by Tucker, extending Cherokee’s lead to 12 points early in the period. Owens added nine rebounds, one assist and one steal while Tucker added eight rebounds, two assists and two steals.
“I was pleased with how we finished,” Kvam said. “Obviously we’d like to start better but it was a good win and one we needed heading into next week.”
Cherokee, ranked sixth in Class AAAAAAA hosted No. 1 Milton on Tuesday. Both teams are 2-0 in Region 5AAAAAAA and the winner will assume sole possession of the region lead.