CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- The No. 1 seeding for the upcoming District 5-AAA boys' basketball tournament was in the balance Thursday at Cleveland High School, and both teams played like it.
Cleveland ultimately defeated Ooltewah 83-79, clinching the top spot when D.J. Bowles made two free throws with seven seconds remaining.
The Blue Raiders created a three-way tie at 9-3 at the top of the district standings, along with the Owls and Bradley Central. However, Cleveland (16-6), which won 71-58 at Ooltewah last Friday, will be top-seeded when the tournament begins next week.
"It's been up and down, for sure," Cleveland coach Jason McCowan said of his team's season. "The goal is to get there. It's not how you get there."
Ooltewah (20-7) played well enough Thursday to beat a lot of teams, just not the one it faced. Any other time this season the Owls have scored at least 79 points in a game, they won.
"This was two really good teams," McCowan said. "I think our district has some good teams. These two are very familiar with each other. It just comes down to the kids making plays, and we made one or two more than they did."
The score throughout the fourth quarter was so close, the final score proved to be the only advantage larger than Ooltewah's 72-69 lead. There were no double-digit margins in the game. The Owls came close at 40-31 on Andrew Ware's layup with a little more than two minutes to play in the first half.
Cleveland outscored the Owls 22-15 in the third period.
"The third quarter killed us," Ooltewah coach Jesse Nayadley said. "They didn't shoot anything but layups. They might've hit a couple of free throws.
"Late in the game we missed two straight wide-open layups. We get a steal and we're going down, then for some reason it ends up their ball. The last four or five possessions we didn't convert some easy baskets and they did. But we put ourselves in a hole in the third quarter."
Rondezz Mee led five Blue Raiders in double figures with 20 points. Jarod Rhodes scored 17, B.J. Davis totaled 15, Bowles ended with 13 and Tevin Rutledge added 12.
Sophomore point guard Antonio Jackson did a masterful job running the show for Ooltewah before he fouled out with 1:06 left. his four assists in the first half helped get his teammates involved, and he scored 11 of his team-high 19 points after halftime.
Owls Andre Moton, Wesley Richey and Jervon Johnson had 16 points apiece.
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653.