MURRAY — In the opening two minutes of the Crosstown Classic last night, the Murray High Tigers jumped out to a commanding 10-0 lead. It was a lead that they never relinquished on their way to a wire-to-wire win over the Calloway County Lakers 63-37.
For the Lakers, the shots never fell and head coach Brad Cleaver credited the Tigers’ defense with making it tough on them.
“At the end of the day, you just have to knock down shots,” Cleaver said. “I’ve got to give those guys all the credit. They came out, and I feel like they were more intense than us right from the tip. They kept pouring it on. Hats off to them. I feel like they shot pretty well. They ran their stuff well. They looked like the team that was playing hardest on the floor tonight to me.”
Head coach of the Tigers, Dior Curtis said they were prepared defensively and the guys executed the game plan to perfection on that end of the floor.
“We saw they had been playing well and shooting the ball exceptionally well, so we wanted to try to make them uncomfortable, pressure them a little bit, just make it tough for them,” Curtis said. “If they make shots, fine, but we wanted to make them make tough shots.”
By the end of the night, the Lakers had shot just 27% from the floor and were 5-19 from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, the Tigers shot extremely well at 52% and were 7-15 from three. Murray took a 20 point lead into the halftime locker rooms after they held the Lakers to just four points in the second quarter and the Tigers carried all of the momentum.
“It’s easy to play well when you’re on top and when you’re winning, but it’s how you come out and how you carry yourself,” Cleaver said. “We’re going to be judged as a team, but we have to just take it one quarter at a time and see if we can continue to get better and cut into the lead. That’s what we tried to do there (in the third quarter). We started to when we came out, and Murray just kept executing and making shots.”
The Tigers survived the only real run of the night by the Lakers when Calloway went on a 7-2 run to open the third quarter, but they responded incredibly well and punched back.
“Attention to detail, just keep doing the little things correctly and we come out fine, but if we start trying to do things outside of our element, then we can let them back in the game,” Curtis said. “We did a good job of doing the little things correct tonight, and it helped us maintain the lead.”
Earlier this week, Curtis said the matchup to watch would be between Darius Duffy and Chandler Steele and that if they won the battle they’d be in a position to win the game. Well, Duffy finished the night with 15 points, 10 rebounds, and three rim-rattling dunks. Steele was held to his season-low with just nine points and five rebounds.
“One of the biggest matchups we had was him (Duffy) against Chandler,” Curtis said. “I kind of challenged him a little bit and said, ‘Hey, Darius, you need to step up to the plate and win the matchup.’ He did that tonight. It felt like we could run a little bit and get up and down the court, and if he could get in the right spots, we could get him the ball and he could finish it. He finished really strong tonight for us.”
“Great player. Probably the most improved player I’ve seen,” Cleaver said. “He plays above the rim. They play well. Good team. Well coached team. Good talent. That makes for a good combination.”
This Tigers team is playing well despite being without two starters in Hunter Utley and Tommy Waldrop, and they will likely only get better once those guys return to the lineup. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the teams in the region.
“We felt like at the end of last year that we were one of the top teams returning again this year, and we got some growth out of some of our young guys and even without Tommy and Hunter,” Curtis said. “They’re still leaders for us on the bench right now, and we hope when we get those back we can integrate those guys back in again and become even better.”
As for the Lakers, this was not the team that played McCracken to a five-point loss. They are better than what they showed in the Crosstown Classic and they cannot be slept on.