CHICKAMAUGA, Ga. — With his team fighting illness and an emotional letdown from a buzzer-beating win over its main rival Saturday, Ed Clendenen expected a slow start from his Gordon Lee Trojans in Tuesday's Class A preliminary state playoff basketball game.
Needing a win to get in the Class A field, the Trojans let Commerce hang around for most of the first half before the team's deep bench and star guard Daniel Brooks took over for a 62-50 win. Brooks, one of the Trojans under the weather, had an efficient 25 points as Gordon Lee improved to 20-9 for the season.
Also helping was a 33-19 rebounding advantage, with the Trojans' four-deep rotation at center -- Cody Cochran, Jack Smith, Landon O'Neal and Jacob Huff -- controlling play most of the night.
"We were a bit sluggish, but I've always thought as long as you win and advance you've accomplished your goal," Clendenen said. "We're pretty deep. We've got four posts who play a lot, and they all played well tonight. Rebounding is a key for us, and it was good to see the edge."
Brooks scored on a drive and then put back his own rebound miss to begin an 8-2 run early in the second quarter that stretched a 13-12 lead to seven. The energetic Cochran, who had nine of his 11 points and all six of his rebounds in the opening half, hit from the lane and followed with his second 3-pointer of the half as the Gordon Lee lead stood at 31-22 at halftime.
"They controlled the boards and we missed some shots we normally make," Commerce coach Chad Bridges said of the first half. "Their depth really showed."
The lead grew to 14 when Andrew Johnson completed a three-point play with 3:39 left in the third quarter, but Commerce (15-12) scored the final five points to get back within nine starting the final period. However, Smith and Cochran scored the first seven points of the fourth and the Trojans were strong at the foul line down the stretch to seal the win. Brooks made nine of 10 free throws.
"This gives us 20 wins for the fifth time in six years, and getting back to the state tournament was a goal for this team," said Clendenen, whose team will visit defending champion Wilkinson County in Saturday's Class A first round. "Playing at Wilkinson will be a challenge, but it's a great place to play with a great atmosphere. We're going to go and compete and play hard. That's all we can do."
Thomas McMillan topped Commerce with 18 points, with Jonathan Book adding 10.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...