published Friday, January 17th, 2014

Rams' rally falls short against The Rock

If Tyner coach Gerald Harris could have bottled up his team's second-half performance against The Rock on Thursday, and sprinkled some of that on the first half, there's no telling what the final outcome might have been.

It's a question he'll never have a conclusive answer to. The national power from Gainesville, Fla., won 71-66 in the first round of the Scenic City Showcase at East Hamilton.

Tyner's Rams (11-2) trailed by 14 points at halftime and by 20 midway through the third quarter. They would make a big run late, closing twice to within five.

"We made our share of mistakes and we got down 20, but I thought we held our composure more than we did in our other loss [to Memphis Whitehaven]," Harris said. "I thought Dequan Hardwick played some big basketball. I thought Devante Jones gave us a lift. And I thought Kevin Cameron did a great job."

"I'm not sure we'll play a team like this the rest of the season, but we let this game get past us."

Point guard and University of Tulsa signee Mitchell Wilbekin led The Rock with 27 points, which included four 3-pointers. He hit a pair of free throws after an Alex Watkins technical foul with 5:15 left in the third quarter to give the visitors a 41-21 advantage, but the Rams answered with a 13-4 run. The Rock (13-7) pushed its lead back to 49-34 after three quarters, but Tyner responded again, with a flurry of shots -- including a four-point play by Jones that cut the lead to 60-53 with 3:23 remaining.

He made a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, and then a puback by Cameron cut the deficit to 65-60. Wilbekin hit six straight free throws down the stretch to help The Rock hold on.

Austin Harrell added 13 points for The Rock. Cameron led Tyner with 17 , while Jones had 16 -- all in the second half -- and Hardwick added 14.

"We had to tough this one out," The Rock coach Justin Harden said. "I'm glad we came out alive. We haven't been in too many games in which we've blown a lead like that. We responded, though; Mitchell made his free throws and we made enough baskets down the stretch to get the win."

Hamilton Heights took a 72-46 victory over one of New Hope Christian Academy's teams Thursday and will play Central Park in a semifinal at 6:30 tonight at East Hamilton. The East Hamilton boys lost 92-62 to New Hope's other participating team and will play Tyner in a consolation game this afternoon with 5.

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.

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