Rutland narrowly missed semifinals appearances each of the past two seasons, but the Hurricanes made good on their opportunity Thursday night with a 77-65 victory over Cedar Grove in the GHSA Class AAA playoffs.
“We’ve finally got four guys that have been in the program for a while, and they’ve felt the same thing that I’ve felt, the hurt, the pain, and they understood what it took to get to the next game,” Rutland head coach Ron Christian said.
The Hurricanes never trailed.
Rutland built a six-point lead after the first quarter and extended it to as many as 10 in the second quarter before settling for a five-point advantage at the half. The Hurricanes were just 2-for-7 shooting free throws before the break while Cedar Grove hung around by making 10-of-12.
Guard Jeremy Braswell knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter and led Rutland with 15 points in the opening half.
“I was trying not to shoot too much and just take it to them,” Braswell said. “Just because I’m smaller than them I didn’t want them to think I couldn’t drive, so I started taking it to them, and that opened by outside shot.”
Cedar Grove cut the lead to just four at the two-minute mark of the third quarter, but Rutland finished the quarter with a 6-0 run to push the lead back to double digits. The Wolverines never got any closer as Rutland made 13 free throws down the stretch.
“(Free-throw) shooting was one of the things that we talked about at halftime,” Christian said. “We had to shoot free throws well in the second half because they had only missed two and we had only made two.”
Cedar Grove big man Jacara Cross had 20 points in the first half, including 14 of his team’s 16 in the first quarter. Christian said he knew Cross would get points down low, but that the Hurricanes wouldn’t panic. He scored just seven in the second half.
“We knew coming in that we could give up 30 points in the paint,” Christian said. “We play a different style than anyone who plays us. They say that we’re small and have to play a certain way, that we can’t do this and we can’t do that. But we play the way that we play, and we don’t try to do something that’s out of character.”
Rutland faces Jenkins at 8:15 p.m. on Saturday in Columbus. Jenkins advanced by rolling over Callaway 97-61.
“Jenkins is a good team, and we’re going to have to do our homework on them and get ready for the game,” Christian said.