The Harriman Christmas Classic tipped off at 10 am on Friday, with the Concord Christian Lions (7-5) taking on the Oakdale Eagles (3-8).
In pregame, Oakdale coach J.T. Hicks reminded his team about closing out, not only in-game defensively, but closing out the finish of the game, and finishing what they started, yet it would be Concord that would have the opportunity to close out the game heading into the fourth quarter.
Concord won the tip-off, but after a missed shot, it was Oakdale that scored first, transitioning to the basket after the game’s opening play.
The Lions were the larger team and used the inside presence of Senior forward Drew Sloan to clean up the Lion's missed shots, and Concord had many possessions where Sloan snagged offensive rebounds that kept his team ahead the entire game.
The Eagles shifted to a full-court press, trailing by 4, late in the first quarter, and Oakdale senior guard Aaron Dunlap picked the pockets of the Concord offense and laid in a shot to cut the lead to 2, but the Lions answered quickly on the other end to extend the lead back to 4, and ended the first quarter with an 18-14 lead.
The second quarter opened with Concord establishing itself inside the paint defensively and forcing Oakdale to resort to outside shots to try to take the Lions out of their zone, but senior guard Sydney Gregory was able to take advantage of open perimeter opportunities for the Eagles, striking the bottom of the net with three first half 3-pointers.
Lions' senior forward Cale Smith teamed with Sloan inside to seal off the paint from the Eagles, and a blocked shot on Oakdale late in the second quarter led to a transition basket on the other end for the Lions, that sent Concord to halftime with a 40-35 lead.
The Lions made halftime adjustments and Smith worked through the Eagle's full-court press and found junior forward Jace Gheen wide-open under the basket to extend the lead to 10 early in the third quarter.
Down the stretch, Lions' senior forward Dominic Alford buried two 3-pointers, finishing with 12 points in the game, and helping Concord close out the third quarter with a 66-46 lead that all but had the game put away.
Oakdale senior guard Aaron Dunlap forced two turnovers in a half-court trap late in the fourth quarter that got the Eagles back in contention, as they cut a 20-point deficit to 7, after senior guard Joseph Summers, who ended the day with a team-leading 25 points, stole the ball and laid it in on a fast break with just under 2 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The Lions finished solid from the foul line in the fourth, and despite missing free throws early in the first quarter, they hit their free throws to seal the victory over the Eagles, 76-69.
Sloan, who finished with 26 points amidst a double-double, recognized Oakdale's 2-1-2 defense as an area of opportunity for Concord to exploit in the game film leading up to Friday’s opening game.
“We’ve been pretty good at dealing with the zone presses,” Sloan said after the game. “I just watch film, to see the defense, and see what weaknesses they have.”
Sloan went on to praise the performance of his teammates and credited them for their ability to open up Oakdale's 2-1-2 zone and create opportunities to get him the ball inside and take shots on the perimeter.
“That 2-1-2 defense they play. We have a great corner shooter in Cade Keaton,” Sloan continued, acknowledging Sloan's shooting for opening up lanes for his teammates to get open inside, before he addressed the team's missed opportunities in the fourth quarter.
“We have to keep our head in the game. We were a little out of it today with it being a morning game and having a long trip up.”
Despite the success, Sloan and the Lions understand that Friday's performance could have been better, but the missed opportunities that Concord had down the stretch in the fourth quarter are not to overshadow a solid performance against a faster Oakdale team that they defeated on Friday.
Concord 18 22 26 10 - 76
Oakdale 14 21 11 23 - 69
Drew Sloan 26, Cale Smith 14, Dominic Alford 12, Cade Keeton 7
Joseph Summers 25, Sydney Gregory 13, Aaron Dunlap 10, Kyle Miller 9
Follow Justin Braden on X @jkbradenco for more prep sports coverage and an opportunity to comment on this article and others. Criticism and feedback of the media improve the quality of coverage given to student-athletes in east Tennessee.
Copyright © 2023. Bradenco Broadcasting.