'Landers 'Cooke' up 56-45 victory over SG Rebels

By Marvin Birchfield

   If you were wondering what was "Cooke"-ing up in Roan Mountain on Monday night, it was "Master Chef" Craig Cooke serving up his three-point special entree.
   Cooke shot a total of seven three-point goals to tie for second on the all-time single-game list at Cloudland, as the 'Landers defeated South Greene in a 56-45 final.
   "We didn't play as good a defense as what we have, but we shot the ball well, and Craig made some big shots for us," said Cloudland coach Ned Smith. "South Greene is real athletic and well coached. They have a good team."
   Cloudland jumped out to a 14-9 lead after the first quarter of action, with Cooke nailing a couple of threes and Robbie Tolley taking care of business on the inside.
   "I think our rebounding helped us a lot -- we were bigger than them," said Cooke. "Our press offense worked well against them -- we moved the ball real well."
   The 'Landers enjoyed a 21-14 with 2:35 left in the half, when Jon Pritchard scored off a drive along the baseline.
   South Greene came back to score the last eight points of the half after the Rebels went four of six from the free-throw line.
   From there, a pressing defense enabled the Rebels to make the rally and within one-point.
   With Cloudland clinging to a 21-20 lead at halftime, the Rebels opened up the third quarter with a quick basket coming from Tyler Sauceman.
   Sauceman went on to lead the Rebels in scoring with 14 points, but the early South Greene advantage evaporated after Cloudland rolled off a 15-3 run.
   "We had some wide-open looks during the second half, but we just didn't stick the shots and they did," said South Greene coach Terry Hoese. "You can't take anything away from Cloudland. They're very athletic and tough inside with Tolley and those other guys."
   Aaron Stocton rebounded his own miss for a three-point play to put the 'Landers up by five with 3:50 left in the third. A key block by Tolley in the final seconds of the period resulted in Mark Byrd taking the ball down for a three-point basket with :01 remaining.
   "Our point guard, Mark, pushes the ball real well, and our other guard, Cody Jones, shoots the ball well," said Cooke.
   After enjoying a 36-25 lead heading into the final period, Cloudland kept its advantage by hitting from long range.
   The Rebels were given a bellyful of threes from the "Cooke" during the fourth quarter.
   "I just hit a few of them from the start and gained a little bit of confidence, so I kept shooting and it kept coming," said Cooke. "I just want to thank my teammates. They hustle and rebound well, and they help get you open when they need to."
   A three-point play by Cody Caraway off a steal from the press pulled South Greene to within eight with 5:07 left in regulation, but this was as close as they came.
   "Our post players got muscled up down low, which they were not used to, so they didn't respond," said Hoese. "We lost a tough game Friday, which was for the conference championship against Pigeon Forge, and that seems like it has taken something out of us."
   The lead climbed to 47-33 with just over two minutes to play, when Cooke knocked down his third three-pointer of the period.
   Cooke then proceeded to turn to his coach and say he was sorry for not setting up the play that was designed, but who wants to complain about someone who just led the team with 23 points on the night?
   "I told him to set it up and before he shot, but he never did," said Smith. "I guess when you're feeling it, you're feeling it."
   South Greene was unable to rally in the final minutes, which gives Cloudland (20-6) a perfect home record on the season with 12 wins.
   "This is a big win for us, and I hope we're now starting to peak for the tournament," said Smith. "We ran the floor well tonight and I thought we had good shot selection after getting up by eight points in the second half."