CLEVELAND, Tenn. - For a number of years, the Ooltewah boys' basketball team would find ways to lose to Cleveland. Last season the Owls ended a multi-year losing streak by winning twice in district play.
Make that three in a row.
The Owls put four players in double figures and hit nine of 12 free throws in the final 1:42 to claim a 64-62 District 5-AAA victory Friday night at the Raider Dome. The win gives Ooltewah (7-1, 5-0) an early edge up in the league going into the Christmas break.
It actually was the Owls' fourth win in a row over Cleveland, but the two schools played a junior varsity game in the consolation bracket of the 2011 Times Free Press Best of Preps tournament that neither counted toward their records.
Both Ooltewah coach Jesse Nayadley and Cleveland's Reggie Tucker cited toughness as the difference in Friday's game.
Tucker was coaching in place of Blue Raiders head coach Jason McCowan, whose grandfather was hospitalized with a heart attack not long before the game.
"They were just tougher than us," Tucker said. "We did a terrible job boxing out. We knew they wanted to get to the basket -- they're a drive-first team -- but we didn't take any chargers. We prepared for them all week but just did a horrible job tonight.
"We game-planned for them but weren't mentally tough enough at the end."
The Owls outrebounded Cleveland 41-34, which included 16 offensive rebounds -- 11 in the first half when they built a 10-point advantage. Ooltewah outscored Cleveland 18-8 in the second quarter, primarily by speeding up the pace of play.
"I thought for the first time in five games, we came out with energy the first half instead of the second half," Nayadley said. "We didn't bother them with our press in the first quarter, but I think we did in the second.
"We started missing layups in the third quarter and couldn't pull away from that six- to eight-point lead and let them back in it, but withstood it. It was a grind at the end, but we hit some free throws down the stretch. It was the toughest win we've had this year."
Ooltewah never trailed in the fourth quarter, despite the Raiders tying the game on two occasions early in the period. After Cleveland tied it at 49, Antonio Jackson fed Jacqueze Robinson for a 3-pointer with 4:05 left to give the Owls the lead for good. They stretched the margin to seven and held on.
Cleveland hurt itself in the final period. The Raiders went into the bonus situation with 5:54 remaining but hit only four of seven free throws from that point on, including missing the front end of a one-and-one.
Both teams fought foul trouble throughout, with the Owls' Andrew Ware and Cleveland's Jahmal Johnson fouling out and Ooltewah point guard Antonio Jackson ending with four fouls.
Robinson and Ben Snider scored 14 points each to lead the Owls, while Jackson had 13 and Daaron Maston had 12. D.J. Jones scored 17 for Cleveland (6-1, 3-1), while Kendrick Thompson added 11.
"We did a lot of things out of character tonight," Tucker said. "In the end, we just came up short."