In the early stages of Monday's (Dec. 30) game between Jackson County and Commerce, it was a battle of the No. 1s for both sides.
Commerce's Dominic Ricci scored all of his team's points in the first quarter (6). On the other side, Jackson County's Kalib Clinton had four of his team's first seven and, he finished the first half with 12 points.
By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, it was Shawn Cunningham from Commerce who became the star of the game. Tied 37-37 with 1:44 left, Commerce's Ian McConnell missed the second of his free-throw attempts but, the Tigers got the offensive rebound. The ball eventually ended up in the hands of Cunningham, who made the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:33 left to send Commerce to a 46-39 win over county rival Jackson County.
Cunningham ended the game with 12 points, all of which came from downtown. Ricci finished the game with 10 points including four free throws in the final 53 seconds to help ice the game.
McConnell and Creed Dunbar both finished the game with eight points apiece. Dunbar picked off a Panthers' pass and finished with a layup with 29 seconds left to set the score at 46-39.
"I thought we finished extremely well," Commerce head coach Russ Gregg said after the win. "We had a defensive game plan coming in, because I felt like (Clinton) is one of the most talented players we've had in this area in a long time.
"He can just do a lot of different things. So, we focused a lot on him."
Clinton finished the game with 20 points. But after hitting back-to-back buckets to cut the Tigers' lead from 36-30 to 36-34, Clinton went hard to the basket with 2:44 left in the game and was called for a charge, which was his fifth foul of the game, and he had to exit.
Bryce Blake was the only other Panther to finish with more than three points. He ended the game with 12 points including a 3-pointer with 1:59 left in the game that gave Jackson County the lead.
Gregg also wanted to contain Kedric Zimmer. Zimmer made only one basket. Gregg credited Tyleon Brock's defensive effort with containing Zimmer, which was the second key to his team's success.
Gregg credited Jackson County's defense and coach, Ty Baumgardner, with limiting his group's scoring opportunities.
"This guy has won a lot of basketball games ... he does a great job," Gregg said. "We knew we were going to have to step our game up."
The Panthers led 7-6 after the first quarter and, after falling behind early in the second, they again grabbed the lead thanks to six-straight points from Clinton. By the time the first half ended, Jackson County led 21-19 at the break.
The third quarter flipped into Commerce's favor as Cunningham, McConnell and Matthew Simpson combined for four 3-pointers in the quarter to help lead the Tigers to a 33-30 lead when the fourth quarter started.
The fourth took nearly three and half minutes to see a point score, which came from Dunbar behind the arc. Then, Clinton hit back-to-back baskets to cut the Panthers' deficit to two points. On the next trip down, he fouled out.
After Blake made a 3-pointer to put Jackson County ahead, McConnell went to the line, going 1-of-2. An offensive board from Dunbar set up Cunningham for the go-ahead 3-pointer, which he drained and, Commerce led 40-37.
Ricci made four free throws in 15 seconds of each other, and Dunbar closed the game with his steal-and-layup combination with 29 seconds left.
JACKSON CO. 38 (GIRLS), COMMERCE 34: The Panthers got their second win of the season with a four-point win. Up 36-34 with 26 seconds left, Mikenna Duffy iced Commerce with a pair of free throws.
Ashlyn Thompson led the Panthers with 11 points. Kennedy Harris finished the game with eight points as did Duffy.
"Any win is a good win," Jackson County coach Julie McCutcheon said. "We'll definitely accept it and be excited about it. Through the stretch, though, we did see some areas we need to improve on. It did get closer in the end but, it gave us an opportunity to work on some situational things that we have not had an opportunity to work on."
Commerce played six players the entire game. Bryanna Sanders cut a 36-31 Panther lead to 36-34 when she hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 3:01 left to play. After playing good defense at the other end, the Tigers had three opportunities from long range to tie or take the lead. The Tigers also missed two free throws down the stretch.
Sanders finished the game with 14 points. Maggie Mullis ended with nine points.
"(The team) played pretty steady," McCutcheon said. "We typically have a very bad third quarter, but we seemed to conquer that this game ... what we're working towards is not having as much ups and downs and working towards consistency, and I do believe we had that today."
The Panthers' scoring quarter-by-quarter was six, 15, 11 and six.