By Kim West
Despite a 25-point performance from Tanner guard JonJon Fletcher, Class 5A East Limestone used balanced scoring and its deeper bench to come away with a 54-42 victory on Saturday against the top-ranked and defending state champion in 2A.
In a rematch of last season’s county championship game, East (10-4) got a team-high 13 points from leading scorer Jordon Gandy but Tanner held him to only three points in the first half by blanketing him with a help defender.
The Indians overcame the Rattlers’ strategy with 12 points from DeAnte Griffith and 11 from Devin Davis, along with Jarrett Fox, Sylvaughn Taylor and Blake Tucker combining for nine points off the bench.
Clinging to a one-point lead in the first quarter, East used a 7-0 run fueled by a Witt Black assist to Davis for an open trey and two steals converted into fast-break layups by Nick Walsh.
The Rattlers (5-1) trailed by as many as 17 points during the second quarter, with East going on an 11-2 run before Tanner whittled the deficit to 26-14 at halftime.
During a 5-1 run by Tanner to close the first half, Blake Whitt sank an off-balance basket in the paint, Shamaud Baker set up Whitt for a short jumper and Fletcher drilled a turnaround jumper near the free throw line after Ibrahim White chased down a loose rebound.
Tanner stayed with East in the second half as each team scored 28 points, but the Rattlers could not dig themselves out of their 12-point halftime deficit.
White pulled off one of the game’s highlight plays in the third period when he came up with a steal and converted a reverse layup on the ensuing fast break to rouse the Tanner crowd. But his basket only cut the deficit to 10 and Tucker’s three-point play on the next East possession halted the Rattlers’ momentum.
After Tanner starter Desmond Love left the game with a lower leg injury in the fourth, the Rattlers managed to trim the lead to 43-35 when White got another steal and found Fletcher on the right wing for an open 3-pointer.
But East nipped the potential rally in the bud when Griffith grabbed an offensive rebound and drained a short jump shot. Tanner would get no closer than 10 points during the closing minutes of the game.
East 46, Tanner 37
East Limestone improved to 11-3 in a home victory against 2A No. 6 Tanner on Saturday night, using clutch free throw shooting and key baskets from Brennan Crabtree down the stretch to fend off the Rattlers.
In the fourth, Crabtree had a block on defense and scored seven of her team-high 17 points, including a long jumper and an open 3-pointer on assists from point guard Rachael Diamond.
As a team, East shot 7 of 10 from the free throw line during the final period, which prevented Tanner (5-3) from getting any closer than three points.
The Rattlers cut the lead to 35-32 with less than four minutes remaining when Sydney Houston, who had a game-high 18 points, drained a putback jumper.
Houston also hit two free throws to make it 38-34, while Kelsey Houston swished a 3-pointer with a defender’s hand in her face to make it 40-37 with 1:08 left in the game.
But Diamond, who finished with 10 points, and Jayln Johnson combined to hit six straight free throws for the 46-37 final score.
Johnson and Jhay Fletcher each had seven points, with Tess Vessels adding a 3-point play on a putback in the third quarter for East.
Kirstin Brown and Kelsey Houston scored seven points apiece for Tanner, which hadn’t lost since playing Itawamba (Miss.) on Nov. 26 in a Thanksgiving tournament.
East, which led only 18-17 at halftime but produced a 10-2 run to begin the third quarter, inserted Myra Wallace into the lineup at key points in each half.
The eighth-grade guard made an immediate impact as a ball-hawking defender and helped swing the ball around the perimeter on offense.
East and Tanner are scheduled to play again at Tanner on Feb. 3.