Memphis East ends Blue Raiders' 21-game winning streak and their season [photos]

Memphis East ends Blue Raiders' 21-game winning streak and their season [photos]

March 14th, 2019 by Patrick MacCoon in Breaking News

Cleveland's Grant Hurst (11) misses the pass from teammate Isaiah Johnson, rear, while guarded by Memphis East's Antonio Thomas during a TSSAA Class AAA quarterfinal Thursday at MTSU's Murphy Center.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Updated with more information at 7:45 p.m. on March 14, 2019.

Gallery: Memphis East beats Cleveland

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MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Cleveland tried everything it could to limit Memphis East post James Wiseman, the nation's top-rated prep basketball recruit.

After failing to score until halfway through the second quarter, though, the Mustangs' 7-foot star put up 20 points — including six powerful dunks — in a span of just more than 13 minutes to lead his team to a 77-51 victory in a Class AAA state quarterfinal Thursday at Middle Tennessee State University.

"He literally jumped over one of our kids on a dunk," said Blue Raiders coach Jason McCowan, whose team finished the season 29-5. "In practice, we used floor hockey sticks to try to simulate his length. But when you go against him, at times there's just nothing you can do.

"That kid is going to be a big-time college basketball player, and Lord willing, he will go pro in 14 months."

Even as double- and sometimes triple-teams limited the towering University of Memphis signee early, the Mustangs built a sizable lead with a shooting clinic, making at least 70 percent of their field-goal attempts in each of the first two quarters.

Meanwhile, the Blue Raiders were off the mark, hitting just three of their first 22 attempts from 3-point range through the first three quarters. Both teams made eight 3-pointers in the game, but Memphis East connected on half of its long-range attempts. Cleveland took 30 shots behind the arc.

The Mustangs (25-8) will continue their quest for a fourth straight state title when they take on Oakland (25-5) in Friday's semifinals, with Bearden (30-5) and Whitehaven (25-7) completing AAA's final four.

The loss was the Blue Raiders' first since Dec. 15 and snapped a 21-game winning streak. Despite starting 8-4 and losing its first two district contests of the season — along with a senior standout who was dismissed from the team — Cleveland made its first trip to the state tournament since 2005.

"You can't do anything but celebrate these guys," McCowan said. "They worked their guts out. To not lose a game in 2019 until we play the three-time defending state champions is impressive. All of our guys brought us to a place I didn't think we could get to. They are special.

"To end in the 'Glass House' is a success for these kids who fought tooth and nail all season," McCowan said. "If you told me in December we would end our season against Memphis East here, I would have said, 'Print the T-shirts.' We definitely want to play more games here."

Wiseman missed his only field-goal attempt of the first quarter and had just two rebounds in the period, but he finished with a game-high 20 points on 10-of-14 shooting. He grabbed seven of his game-high 10 rebounds in the second half.

Wiseman's first basket came on an alley-oop slam to extend the Mustangs' lead to 26-13 with 4:01 left in the first half.

"A lot of teams have tried to come out early and take me away, but I just had to be patient," said Wiseman, who checked out of the game for good with 6:25 left and his team ahead 62-34. "My teammates got hot early, and I enjoyed seeing them have success. I fed off their energy. Hopefully we can keep building to our tradition and win a fourth consecutive state championship."

Four Mustangs scored in double figures, and guards Nautica Harwell (10 points), Tadarius Jacobs (15) and Dee Merriweather (12) combined to shoot 7-of-9 from 3-point range.

Cleveland junior point guard JaCobi Wood scored 12 of his team-high 15 points in the second half, Kley McGowan finished with 10 points and six rebounds and Grant Hurst had eight points and four steals.

The Blue Raiders, who scored 23 points in the fourth quarter but shot 33 percent or worse in the first three, will lose five seniors but are expected to return three starters next season, including current sophomores Hurst and McGowan.

"Just to make it here with this team is amazing to all of us," said senior Isaiah Johnson, who finished with seven points and four assists. "It sucks to lose, but to be here with my brothers is a great feeling. I am going to miss it."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.