MARIETTA — It didn’t take long for Cherokee to take control in its final game before Christmas break.
The Warriors raced free for their best offensive performance of the season, cruising to a 99-69 victory over Columbia on Tuesday night in the Lemon Street Classic at Marietta Middle School.
It was the ninth straight win for Cherokee (10-2) which entered the week ranked No. 6 in Class AAAAAAA. It was the second straight loss for Columbia, the No. 2-ranked team in Class AA.
“Offensively, early in the first half, we were moving the ball and playing fast, getting in the fast break,” Cherokee coach Roger Kvam said. “I’d scouted (Columbia), and I thought they were very good, but we really played defense well in the first half and were moving the ball.”
The 99 points was the highest Cherokee has scored in a game under Kvam, in his 18th season at the Warriors’ helm.
Behind sharpshooting and defensive pressure, the Warriors jumped out to a 20-5 lead minutes into the game. Cherokee hit six 3-pointers in the first quarter, with senior guard Taihland Owens finding easy baskets on the perimeter and at the rim.
Owens scored 14 first-quarter points and Cherokee led 33-13 at the start of the second quarter.
The offensive assault did not cease, however, as Xavier commit Elijah Tucker began to find his rhythm alongside Owens. Tucker finished with several dunks in the first two quarters, and his step-back, corner 3-pointer at the buzzer closed out a 57-point first half and 28-point lead for the Warriors.
“I was really pleased with how unselfish and opportunistic we were pushing the ball and getting easy buckets,” Kvam said. “Elijah Tucker is a beast, and they forget about him sometimes but he’s really a tough matchup.”
Owens picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and played sparingly for the rest of the game, but the Warriors’ backcourt depth picked up the slack.
Columbia’s guards continued to pressure Cherokee, but the Warriors were steadily able to break the pressure and find open shooters.
Columbia was led by Mason Lockhart, who finished with a team-high 22 points, while Kawasiki Ricks added 15 points and Kenneth Hardaway 11.
Even with increased intensity on the defensive end, Columbia was unable to move within 25 points of Cherokee in the second half. The Warriors emptied their bench in the final minutes and the depth of Cherokee’s roster was evident as the game progressed.
Tucker finished with a game-high 27 points while Owens finished with 25, but Cherokee saw multiple players contribute both as starters and off the bench. D.J. Potts-Heard finished with 14 points, Tayden Owens 12 and Ethan Pickett 10. Cameron Pope also added seven points off the bench.
“Cameron, D.J. and Caleb Richardson all came in and gave us some good minutes,” Kvam said. “We’re eight deep for sure with who we have, so it’s fun to coach. We did some good things tonight, and it’s fun to coach when they come out and play with defensive intensity.”
Cherokee will play next against Mill Creek on Monday in the Deep South Classic at Brookwood.