When the Panthers’ season was on the line late in Friday’s Class 1A, Area 10 tournament semifinal game against fifth-ranked Cedar Bluff at Collinsville, he had no hesitation about putting the ball in Ivey’s hands, and he delivered.
It was his layup high off the glass over a leaping Levi Mintz as time expired that proved to be difference, lifting the Panthers to a 67-65 victory that secured a spot in the area championship game.
“I looked up, got the ball, looked at the clock, then saw the matchup I had,” Ivey said. “I drove hard to the basket and just laid it up soft off the glass.”
The area championship game will be an all-Panther affair, as Spring Garden (17-12) battles second-ranked Collinsville (25-3) Monday at 7 p.m. in Collinsville.
Spring Garden snapped Cedar Bluff’s10-game winning streak. The Tigers end their season at 19-8.
“This was a big game for us,” said Ivey, who finished the game with 13 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals. “We knew we could play with these guys and we knew we could beat them, even though they beat us twice this season. I hope this lights a fire and carries us the rest of the season.”
When Austin saw Ivey’s clutch shot go through, the coach couldn’t help but have a flashback to when Ivey was in the seventh grade.
“I had to talk him into playing basketball,” Austin said. “When we went and played on the road at Cherokee County Middle, he had never been pressed before. They run that 1-3-1 half-court trap and just wore him out. I coached him and told him ‘Son, one day this is going to pay off.’ I wanted him to make that shot for that reason. He has worked so hard to overcome that, and he’s not finished yet. We’ve got the rest of this year and one more year with him.”
Cedar Bluff coach Joe Carpenter called Ivey “an outstanding point guard.”
“He did what it took to get to the basket,” Carpenter said. “We didn’t want to foul him and put him on the line. He threw it high off the glass and it went in. There was no time left on the clock for us. It’s a tribute to their effort. They did a tremendous job of playing us tonight.”
Ivey wasn’t the only Spring Garden hero on the night. Senior guard Logan Whorton connected on five of Spring Garden’s eight 3-pointers and finished with 19 points. He also grabbed seven rebounds.
“I appreciate my teammates getting me the ball when (senior center) Jake (Grogan) was jammed up inside,” Whorton said. “I was feeling it. I just wanted to get our team going because we needed this.”
Speaking of Grogan, he had a key block on Tiger senior forward DeAngelo Hardy late in the game that turned into a crucial bucket for the Panthers. Grogan contributed 14 points, five boards and a pair of steals.
Junior forward Will Westbrook connected on a 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter after Cedar Bluff had rallied from a 12-point deficit to help the Panthers regain the lead at 53-51. Westbrook came away with nine points and four boards.
Senior guard Josh Hale netted eight points, grabbed seven rebounds and had a steal.
“I’m just so proud for these players,” Austin said. “They have withstood my coaching since seventh and eighth grade. There’s been some down times with that, but they believed in me and stuck with me, because I believed in them. I wanted them to get rewarded with this type of win. We beat a good team tonight. They’re a team who can make a run down the stretch. Now, I want to think my team can. You’ve got to get over this type game before you can believe in that.”
Going into Friday’s area tournament semifinal, Spring Garden and Cedar Bluff had met three times earlier this season. The Panthers held on for a 57-56 victory at Cedar Bluff on Dec. 11 after they nearly blew a 22-point halftime lead.
Cedar Bluff took the next two meetings. They won the Cherokee County Tournament championship 60-59 on Jan. 19. Spring Garden had a 14-point lead in that game and lost in the final seconds.
The Tigers blew out the Panthers 82-57 on Jan. 25 behind Hardy’s 40 points.
Austin said the loss in the county championship served as motivation for the Panthers.
“The county loss hurt us. It stung our kids,” he said. “They played their hearts out in the county championship game. The very next day at practice on Monday, when I called them into the locker room, I said ‘Guys, if we learn something from this, we’ll trade this loss for a win against them in the area. Let’s work toward that. That’s what we’ve got to shift our minds to.’
“That’s all I had to say. They believe in me so much, and they said ‘Let’s get it done.’ That’s what impresses me about this bunch.”
The two teams’ latest battle on Friday was tied at 17 at the end of the first quarter. Spring Garden built a 39-29 advantage by halftime, only to see another big lead evaporate near the end of the third quarter.
That set the stage for the nail-biting fourth quarter.
“We’re used to being in close games with Cedar Bluff, but we’re not used to winning them,” Austin said. “This is a different feeling. It’s a great feeling. We’ve won some against them, but to win in this position of the tournament, it’s a wonderful feeling for our kids.”
Carpenter said he was proud of the fight back by his Tigers.
“They got us down 10-12 points at certain times, but our boys didn’t quit. They fought back, but we knew it was going to be an epic battle. Tonight, Spring Garden’s the better team and they move on.”
Hardy ended a stellar Cedar Bluff basketball career with 23 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Senior guard Terrence Scales added 22 points, six boards, two assists and a steal. Fellow senior guard Rickey Pendley posted 10 points, three steals, two rebounds and an assist. Sophomore guard Devante Dixon finished with six points, nine boards, four assists and a pair of steals.
“We’ve got an outstanding group of young men,” Carpenter said. “I feel for our six seniors. We have some great players leaving us. We’re going to feel their loss. They helped us make a tradition for Cedar Bluff basketball. Hopefully we can regroup and carry on next year.”
Collinsville boys 81, Gaylesville boys 18
COLLINSVILLE – Collinsville senior guard Deshawn Moore posted 25 points and grabbed five rebounds to lead the second-ranked Panthers to an 81-18 blowout against Gaylesville in the Class 1A, Area 10 tournament semifinals on Friday.
Senior forward Davey Posey added 16 points and eight rebounds for the Panthers. Jalyn Martin came away with eight points and seven boards. Tanner Nelson netted eight points. Senior guard David Hernandez finished with seven points.
Junior guard Gable Lawson led Gaylesville (4-19) with 12 points.
Collinsville jumped out to a 26-2 lead at the end of the first quarter and pushed its lead to 47-5 at halftime. The Panthers led 68-8 at the end of the third quarter.