Just as snow is synonymous with the Christmas holiday, so too is the Cullman boys’ basketball team and close games.
The cardiac Bearcats once again prove their worth, defeating previous unbeaten Class 2A, No. 2 Tanner by a final score of 55-52 to win the inaugural Yule Tide Classic at Tom Drake Coliseum.
“We had a nice lead there in the fourth quarter, but let them get back in it,” Cullman coach Bobby Meyer said. “However, we made the plays when we needed to and beat a good team.”
Fresh off one- and four- point wins their previous two games, the Bearcats found themselves in familiar territory Saturday night, heading into the fourth quarter leading by eight points.
The Rattlers answered back in the big way, however, starting the frame on a 13-2 run to take a 49-44 lead in the waning minutes of the game.
The Bearcats didn’t panic, though, pulling even at 51 all, with back-to-back buckets from Houston Turner and Troy Forrest.
From there, Turner gave the Bearcats a two-point lead by making two free throws with under a minute to play.
On the ensuing Rattlers’ possession, Desmond Love drew a foul on Cullman’s Lane Donaldson and stepped to the free-throw line with a chance to tie the game.
Unfortunately for Tanner, Love made just one of his two attempts, forcing the Rattlers to foul Turner with 4.7 seconds left in the game.
And, like the Bearcats did all tournament, Turner knocked in both of his free throw attempts, giving the Bearcats a three-point lead that they didn’t relinquish.
It wasn’t just the starters for Cullman, but also the bench.
The Bearcats’ reserves accounted for 14 points in the game, seemingly making play-after-play while giving the starters a breather.
“The bench was great all tournament long,” Meyer added. “The minutes they gave made an impact. All of them.”
Following the tournament, Lawson Schaffer and Turner were named co-MVPs of the tournament for their efforts.
Schaffer’s ball-handling skills late in games were the potential difference in a 3-0 finish and an 0-3 finish.
“Lawson’s used to that kind of pressure being played on him,” Meyer said of the sophomore. “It doesn’t phase him.”
Turner led the way with 14 points, while Schaffer added 12.
Other Bearcat contributors were Troy Forrest and Lane Donaldson, six points; Seth Swalve, four points; Keaton Dean, Lukas McNeal and Lee Mattox, three points; Auston Neal and Jason McAfee, two points.
The Bearcats improved their overall record to 11-6 with the win and are currently riding a five-game winning streak.
Their recent success has them flying high heading into the second-half of their season, with a regular-season area title still up for grabs.
“Moving forward, we just need to defend, rebound and make free throws,” Meyer said. “Those other teams have good players, so we need to be ready for it.”
In other action, Athens defeated Dallas County 56-48 to take the third-place game in the tournament.
‰ Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.