Over the past three seasons, the Rhea County boys' basketball team has found itself in more than its fair share of tight games. The Golden Eagles have become a product of experience and have learned how to win a few of them.
They went on an 18-5 run in the final 4:30 of their game Monday night at East Ridge and were able to steal a 59-55 victory over the Pioneers.
Rhea (13-8) received 22 points from Nick McWherter and 17 from Jalen Smith, and the two combined to score 14 consecutive during the fourth quarter. Carter Clark hit six consecutive free throws in the final 1:19 to ice the game as the Golden Eagles hit 15 of 17 free throws in the fourth quarter.
Josh Coleman finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds for Rhea, which is 7-0 in games decided by six points or less.
"We've just been able to find a way to win these tight games," Rhea coach Tony Williams said.
"I think we caught East Ridge at a good time after their emotional win on Friday [against Howard]."
It wasn't easy, though. The Pioneers crashed the boards hard, finishing with 20 offensive rebounds. After a slow start to the first quarter which ended with Rhea leading 15-8, East Ridge allowed only five second-quarter points and garnered a five-point lead going into halftime, repeatedly gaining buckets off its own misses.
"East Ridge didn't shoot the ball well, but offensive rebounding has killed us all year," Williams said. "We play a lot of matchup zone, and that hamstrings us in terms of the boards."
The Pioneers never trailed in the third quarter, taking the five-point edge into the fourth. A pair of layups by Alfonso Cox gave them their biggest lead of nine points, the second making it 47-38, but Rhea started to chip away by crashing the boards hard, much as East Ridge had done most of the game. The Golden Eagles out-rebounded East Ridge 11-6 in the final quarter.
Chris Green finished with a team-high 17 points for East Ridge (17-7), with Cox right behind with 16. The two combined for 19 rebounds, led by Cox's 10.
"We just kept letting them back in the game," East Ridge coach Jon Goddard said. "I could tell coming in that we weren't in the right mindset. We put them on the line and they hit shots. Do we dwell on this or do we turn it around? Hopefully this will be our wake-up call."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/gh3sports.