In late November, Ooltewah whacked McMinn County by 20 points on the Cherokees’ home court.
On Tuesday night in Ed Foster Gymnasium, the Owls struggled against McMinn before senior Tucker Bass saved Ooltewah’s bacon with clutch long-range shooting in a 62-54 high school basketball victory.
With the win, Ooltewah improved to 13-4 overall and more importantly remained undefeated in district play with its seventh straight win.
“We didn’t have great energy tonight and I don’t know why,” Ooltewah coach Jesse Nayadley said. “I’m not down on the guys. They’re playing hard, but there’s just something missing. This is a good time to find it if we’re going to keep winning and moving on.”
The Owls, who have won three in a row, led 36-33 with 1:08 left in the third quarter. They outscored the Cherokees (8-10, 3-3) 7-2 over the next 68 seconds and had a 43-35 advantage starting the fourth quarter.
Ooltewah’s Antonio Jackson, who had a game-high 18 points, made a free throw. But McMinn’s Austin Hayes countered with a 3 from the left corner.
Up stepped Bass, a 6-foot-2-inch senior guard.
Bass, who started the season’s first two games and had three 3s in each, drained a 3 from the right wing and pushed the Owls’ margin to 47-38 with 6:57 left in the game.
The Cherokees’ Jaylon Martin converted a three-point play.
The Owls’ Ty Presley nailed a 3 from the right win. After each team missed free throws, McMinn’s Quintin Versa rebounded his own miss and dropped in a layup and cut Ooltewah’s lead to 50-43 with 4:12 showing.
Bass buckled the Tribe’s knees with a 3 out of the darkness of the right corner.
Hayes countered with a 3 of his own.
On the Owls’ next possession, Bass switched corners and swished another 3 – the two pivotal shots were separated by 21 seconds – and Ooltewah was up by 56-46.
McMinn County got no closer than eight points over the final 3 minutes and 31 seconds.
“Coach Nayadley has the confidence in me to come off the bench and let it fly,” said Bass, who finished with 12 points coming on four 3s. “I was feeling it in warm-ups, so I went out there, tried my best and it worked out. We got the win.”
What Bass didn’t get earlier in the season was Nayadley’s demand to play tenacious defense, along with a nice does of offense.
“Coach said I wasn’t working hard enough on defense and I had to do both,” Bass said. “That motivated me a lot. I started working more on defense, not so much on offense, and it has paid off.”
Despite his being yanked from the starting lineup, Bass never lost confidence in his scoring abilities.
“I consider myself an excellent 3-point shooter,” he said. “That’s what I do.”
And, Nayadley isn’t trying to make Bass into a defensive specialist.
“Tucker can shoot the lights out,” the veteran Owls coach said. “He missed a lot of shots early in the year, but he’s a shooter. You have to keep letting him shoot it. But he wasn’t guarding at the start of the year. I guess he sat there long enough and figured it out there’s only way I’m going to get on the floor.
“He’s very capable of doing what he did in the fourth quarter tonight. And we’re going to need that come district tournament time.”
McMinn County coach Keith Elliott, who watched Ooltewah drub his Cherokees, 73-53, on Nov. 30, said he threw a few new wrinkles at the Owls on Tuesday “to give them something they hadn’t seen.”
Bass’ performance wasn’t totally surprising, the coach said.
“I’ve seen that kid (Bass) play,” Elliott said. “I knew he was capable of hitting those kinds of shots. We should have been getting over that screen a little harder to get to him, but fatigue may have had something to do with that. It’s hard to get over that screen when you’re tired.”
McMinn County made the Owls work for everything they got early on.
Ooltewah had an 8-6 lead, but the Cherokees went on a 10-2 run and opened their biggest lead of the game at 16-10 less than a minute into the second quarter.
The Owls scored the game’s next seven points – five by another reserve, C.J. Fritz. The Cherokees led 18-17 when Bass connected on the first of four 3s – all his points came from behind the arc – and Ooltewah has a 20-18 advantage. It was 24-22, Ooltewah, at halftime.
McMinn’s Versa and Ty Jones, who had 10 first-half points and finished with 12, scored quick goals to start the second half for a 26-24 lead.
Jackson, Presley and Jackson countered for the Owls, putting the Cherokees in a 31-26 hole.
McMinn reserve Javen Simpson, a 6-1 junior, made back-to-back layups and the Cherokees were within 31-30. Jackson ripped a 3, McMinn’s Bo Marshall, who led the Cherokees with 14 points, made one free throw, the Owls’ Ron King got a put-back bucket, Versa dropped in a layup and Ooltewah was up 36-33 with 1:08 left in the third quarter.
“We’re playing ten to twelve people right now,” Nayadley said, “and I don’t know if you can get good chemistry and rhythm doing that. I’m really trying to find the right group.”
Nayadley also is buying time until junior forward Ben Snider, out with a broken finger, gets back on the floor.
“It definitely hurts not having him out there in every aspect of the game,” Nayadley said. “He’s a very good player. We’re looking at getting him back next week. Maybe in the long run these guys getting some good minutes now, building some confidence, we can use them when he gets back.”
Hayes finished with 10 points for McMinn County.
McMinn County girls 46, Ooltewah 35: Freshman Tamiyah Baker scored 12 points for Ooltewah but it wasn’t enough to beat the Lady Cherokees (12-5, 5-2).
“Tamiyah has a lot of potential if she works hard,” Lady Owls coach Donnie Mullins said. “In middle school, she was the best player on her team and didn’t have to work hard. Up here, it’s a little bit different going against the teams we’re playing.”
Leondra Barrett added 11 points for Ooltewah (3-14, 1-6).
Haley Ward and KeKe Smith each scored 13 points for the Lady Cherokees, who held Ooltewah to 22 points in the first three quarters.
McMinn County 11 16 11 8 – 46
Ooltewah 8 7 7 13 – 35
McMinn County (46) – Haley Ward 13, KeKe Smith 13, Guardiola 6, Dispensa 7, Robinson, Simbeck 3, Kelley, Burke, Brooks.
Ooltewah (35) – Cross 2, Cooper 4, Jones, Hall 2, Kennedy 2, Tamiyah Baker 12, Leondra Barrett 11, Featherstone 1.
3-Point Goals – McMinn County 1 (Ward); Ooltewah 2 (Baker 2).
McMinn County 12 10 13 17 – 54
Ooltewah 8 16 19 19 – 62
McMinn County (54) – Quintin Versa 11, Ty Jones 12, Bo Marshall 14, Austin Hayes 10, Martin 3, Simpson 4.
Ooltewah (62) – Antonio Jackson 18, Jacqueze Robinson 9, Ware 2, Maston 2, Presley 6, Fritz 7, Boyd 4, Tucker Bass 12, King 3.
3-Point Goals – McMinn County 6 (Marshall 3, Hayes 3); Ooltewah 9 (Bass 4, Presley 2, Jackson, Robinson, Fritz).
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)