Photo: Etowah High’s Ollie Finch (15) and Steven Jones (23) battle Cherokee County’s Naz Diamond for a rebound during the Blue Devils’ 75-52 victory in the Class 4A Area 10 Tournament semifinals in boys basketball last Wednesday (Feb. 10). (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
James Graves could not have asked for better timing for his first win in as Etowah High boys basketball coach for the 2020-21 season.
After enduring consecutive losses to ranked teams following his return to the bench after tending to his wife, Dr. Sabrina Morgan-Graves, who spent several weeks in the ICU with a severe case of pneumonia, Graves last Wednesday (Feb. 10) guided the Blue Devils to a 75-52 victory over Cherokee County in the Class 4A Area 10 Tournament semifinals in Attalla.
Etowah plays at Jacksonville this Saturday (Feb. 13) for the area championship. Wednesday’s win over CCHS qualified the Blue Devils for the subregional playoffs this Tuesday (Feb. 16).
“It always starts with defense, and we were able to create some turnovers and get some points off them,” said Graves. “We started making some 3’s, and sometimes it’s contagious when you start putting it in the hole.”
Graves pointed to his team’s depth as a major factor in the win.
“It really helps us playing as many kids as we do. It makes a big difference late in a game when you’re throwing fresh kids out there and the other team doesn’t have the numbers to do that.”
Etowah’s primary sharpshooter against Cherokee County was junior guard Dee Spears, who knocked down six 3-point baskets on the way to a game-high 30 points. He contributed 13 points to a 25 to 9 third quarter run that effectively put the game out of reach.
The Blue Devils held a 63-41 advantage heading into the final eight minutes, and the visiting Warriors never mounted a serious threat down the stretch.
Steven Jones added 10 points for Etowah, followed by Trent Davis, Tae Wright and Brevan Knight with eight each.
Both teams were running and gunning off the opening possession, trading baskets and the lead for most of the first quarter. Knight’s bucket in the closing seconds provided the hosts with a 20-17 lead.
Cherokee County kept pace during the second period, at one point tying the game at 27-27. A 3-pointer from Spears gave the Blue Devils their first double digit lead of the night before CCHS closed within 37-30 at halftime.
That was as close as the Centre squad would get. Etowah opened the second half with a 10-3 spurt, and the visitors failed to respond. The Blue Devils’ deep bench eventually wore down the CCHS starters and allowed Graves to clear his bench for much of the fourth quarter.
Nas Diamond paced the Warriors with 13 points, followed by Slade Alexander with 10 and Cade Hopper with eight.
“We’re going to go to Jacksonville and put our chips on the table and see if we can win this thing,” said Graves. “It’s a tough place to play, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”