No. 7 Cherokee 83, Alexander 47
Heading into the season with a Top 10 ranking to their name, No. 7 Cherokee will no longer be sneaking up on anybody. After finishing 23-5 with their first-ever region title, the Warriors entered 2020-21 with a target on their back and something to prove, especially after failing to advance past the first round of the state tournament. Cherokee’s season debut went without a hitch as the Warriors outscored Alexander 65-30 over the final three quarters to race away with a highlight filled 83-47 victory.
Up against an inexperienced Alexander team, it was a back and forth first quarter as both squads traded punches. Senior guard Bennett Ulm set the tempo early for Cherokee. The unsung hero shined with his energy and defensive presence on the perimeter. He scored five of his 11 points in the first quarter and picked up steals and deflections along the way, but Alexander was game early on.
Junior Zion Fruster scored four points in the quarter including a smooth finish in transition to cut the Cherokee lead to 12-11 with just a tick under 3 minutes remaining.
Alexander would go on a 6-0 run to go ahead 15-12 after a Tayshaun Bolton transition layup.
Instead of carrying momentum into the break however, Cherokee would answer and take an 18-17 lead into the second quarter on a late Tayden Owens layup.
Turnovers became an issue in the second quarter and for the rest of the game for the visiting Cougars. Cherokee got out in transition and were energized by Richmond Hill transfer Ethan Pickett and Xavier-signee Elijah Tucker. Pickett finished with 15 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals, relentlessly attacking the basket and finishing with thunder and finesse on the break.
Tucker, who started out slow with his outside shot, started to get more comfortable as he got closer and closer to the basket. The future Musketeer helped spark a 13-3 run that pushed Cherokee ahead for good, taking a 29-20 lead on a tip-in that showcased Tucker’s freakish length and athleticism.
Tucker scored 10 of his game-high 21 points in the stanza and finished with 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals on the night.
At the half, Cherokee held a 44-33 lead with Alexander barely hanging on receiving solid first halves from Sean Ivory and Jah’Kim Payne, who both scored all 7 of their points in the first 16 minutes before going scoreless the rest of the way. The screeching halt of the offense led to a 24-6 third quarter in favor of the Warriors, a run that ballooned the Cherokee lead to 68-39 after three.
Tucker continued to be effective inside with his activity, while Cherokee’s 2-2-1 press led to multiple steals and a pair of Ulm layups to pushed the lead to 20.
Taihland Owens helped salt the game away in the fourth quarter with seven of his 14 points.
Elijah Tucker – 21 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals
Ethan Pickett – 15 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals
Taihland Owens – 14 points, 1 rebound, 4 assists, 3 steals
Bennett Ulm – 11 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 2 blocks
Tayden Owens – 8 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal
Sean Ivory – 7 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist
Tayshaun Bolton – 7 points, 1 assist, 3 steals
Zion Fruster – 7 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist
Jah’Kim Payne – 7 points, 1 steal