CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Cleveland basketball coach Jason McCowan said after Friday night's win over Walker Valley that he spent the second half trying to "find four guys to surround one" — which interestingly enough, is the number that his senior guard C.J. Bryant wears.
No. 1 was pretty special again.
Bryant scored 26 of his team's 31 points in the second half, and the Blue Raiders were able to stay among the top teams in District 5-AAA with a 62-61 road victory over the Mustangs.
Bryant finished with a game-high 35 points, following up a 33-point outburst against Ooltewah on Tuesday. In addition, he added five steals and four assists as the Raiders improved to 15-8 overall and 9-2 in the district.
Walker Valley (14-10, 4-7) held a 52-45 lead going into the fourth quarter, and the margin remained seven points when a Lukas Korn layup made it 58-51 with 3:35 remaining, but Cleveland outscored the hosts 10-4 the rest of the way, with Bryant scoring eight of the 10 points.
His layup tied the game at 58, and he hit a floater in the lane to give the Raiders a 60-59 lead with 2:22 remaining. He added two free throws, but Austin Harwood hit a shot in the lane with 35.7 seconds left to trim the lead back to one.
Cleveland held the ball, expecting a foul, but Kendrick Thompson was called for a travel with 12.9 seconds remaining. Walker Valley's final possession ended with Tucker Godfrey throwing up an errant shot.
"C.J. was Cleveland basketball tonight," McCowan said. "He willed us to that win. We moved him to a forward position in the second half, which put him higher on the floor and created some driving angles.
"The team played hard defensively, but we were in a funk offensively. C.J. is such a big leader on the floor; he brings it up the court, guards other teams' best players. If we can put four guys around him and we start to click, we could be something special."
The Mustangs shot 6-for-13 from the foul line -- 1-for-5 in the fourth quarter, when they also had eight of their 24 turnovers after Cleveland switched to a full-court press.
"We didn't take care of the ball against the press," Walker Valley coach Bob Williams said. "We were in the right places, but they forced the ball to the middle and we got careless for a minute.
"We let one man beat us tonight. C.J. took over and we couldn't stop him off the dribble. I thought we stepped up to the challenge until around the four-minute mark, but we didn't take care of the basketball late and forced shots instead of being patient."
The Mustangs were led by Tucker Godfrey's 16 points, while Harwood added 13. Caio Hysinger had nine points and six assists, while Korn had eight points and seven rebounds.