Austin-East takes down rival Fulton 69-67 behind Cherry’s 41


KNOXVILLE – Austin-East’s brotherly duo of Shane and Condis Cherry finished the game with a combined 58 points (Shane 41, Condis 17), outdueling Fulton’s twin tandem of Taj and Denaj Kimber, who combined for 35 points (Taj 18, Denaj 17) for a 69-67 win, as it was a packed house with standing room only inside Jody Wright Arena on Saturday afternoon.

Denaj Kimber

Taj Kimber goes up for a basket during the Falcons’ 69-67 home loss to Austin-East on Saturday. Photo by Brian Hamilton

“When I took the job, I knew (the rivalry) was big, but I didn’t know it was this big,” said second-year Austin-East head coach Denard Bertram. “It’s a testament to see the stands packed with both teams’ fans. We played four times last year and we had opportunities and we failed, but to be a part of this and be able to coach against a guy like Jody Wright, it’s just a great time to be able to be here, and I’m thankful that I have this opportunity.”

“That was a typical Fulton/Austin East ball game, it really was,” Fulton head coach Jody Wright said after the game. “No lead is ever safe. Last year we were down by seven with 30 seconds (left) and came back and won, so it’s always a game of ebb and flows, but I think the biggest thing is that we just couldn’t defend at the level you’ve got to defend.”

Shane Cherry scored 18 in the first quarter for Austin-East, but Taj Kimber would heat up in the second quarter, scoring 12 in the frame. Cherry, a junior, did most of the heavy lifting throughout the game, but it was the freshman, Condis Cherry, who came through with a clutch basket and conventional three-point play to help put the Roadrunners over the top.

“When you talk about competitive nature, as a freshman, he competes every day and every single second that he’s on the floor,” Bertram said of Condis Cherry’s play. “He’s the ultimate competitor and I knew that he was going to come back in and close it out. He said, ‘Coach, I got you.'”

Shane Cherry put the Roadrunners on the board first with a three-pointer, but Fulton would score the next five points to take a 5-3 lead.

Condis Cherry would hit a layup to tie the game at 5-5 with just over six minutes left in the first quarter, but Tyler Lee hit a jumper to put the Falcons back in front 7-5.

Austin-East regained the lead when Demarcus Johnson hit a three-pointer off a steal to put the Roadrunners in front 10-9 with 4:32 left in the first period.

Shane Cherry

Shane Cherry (5) goes up for one of his nine three-pointers, as Denaj Kimber defends, during Austin-East’s 69-67 win over Fulton on Saturday. Photo by Brian Hamilton

Lee answered with a rebound and putback to pull Fulton back in front 11-10, but a runner by Shane Cherry would give Austin-East a 12-11 advantage.

Fulton led 16-14 when back-to-back threes by Shane Cherry put the Roadrunners ahead 20-16. A pair of free throws by the junior would stretch the Austin-East lead to 22-16 with 2:10 left in the opening quarter.

A layup by Denaj Kimber, followed by a pair of Nick Steen free throws, would pull Fulton to within 22-20 with just over one minute left in the first.

Shane Cherry would answer the Falcons’ run by hitting two consecutive three-pointers to put the Roadrunners in front by eight.

Cherry would miss a runner at the buzzer to give Austin-East a 28-20 lead after the third quarter. The eldest Cherry would finish the first quarter with 18 points, including four three-pointers.

Fulton opened the second quarter with an 8-2 run, as Taj Kimber shook off a slow start to hit back-to-back threes to make the score 30-28 with just over four minutes left in the first half.

A jumper by Condis Cherry would push the AE lead to 32-28, but Taj Kimber would follow up with a basket to make the score 32-30 with 2:36 left in the second quarter.

Taj Kimber would score on a fast break layup to tie the game at 32-32, which was the closest Fulton had been since leading 16-14 in the first quarter.

Shane Cherry grabbed a steal and went for a fast break dunk with 21 seconds left, as the Roadrunners took a 34-32 lead into intermission.

Tyler Lee would hit a layup to open the third quarter and tie the game at 34-34. A basket by Steen, followed by a turnaround jumper by Taj Kimber would give Fulton a 38-34 lead, as the Falcons opened the second half on a 6-0 run.


Austin East’s Demarcus Allen (12) battles Fulton’s Taj Kimber for a rebound. Photo by Brian Hamilton

A Steen three would give Fulton its largest lead of the game at 43-38, but Shane Cherry would answer with a pull up jumper to make the score 43-40. A rebound and layup by Steen would stretch the Falcons’ lead back to 45-40 with 3:23 left in the quarter.

Jaxson Young would score on a layup, followed by a Shane Cherry three-pointer to tie the game at 45-45 with just under three minutes remaining in the third.

The game was 47-47 when Demarcus Johnson was fouled and sank two free throws to give Austin-East a 49-47 advantage heading into the final quarter.

Fulton opened the fourth quarter on a 6-0 run, but the Roadrunners would punch back and tie the score at 53-53 on a Shane Cherry layup.

A steal and dunk by Taj Kimber would give Fulton a 55-53 lead, but a Shane Cherry three would put Austin-East back in front 56-55.

The teams would trade blows throughout the fourth quarter, but Fulton looked as if it might be starting to pull away late in the fourth, as the Falcons held a 64-59 lead with under three minutes remaining.

Shane Cherry drained another triple to pull Austin-East to within 64-62 with 2:11 left in the game. Another Cherry three would trim the Falcons’ lead to 66-65 with 1:21 remaining.

A baseline jumper by Condis Cherry would give the Roadrunners a 67-66 advantage with 12 seconds left. The freshman was fouled on the play, but missed the free throw, leaving Austin-East with a 1-point lead.

“That was just an unbelievable play for a kid that (was in front of a) true crowd, to go in there and make that play as a freshman,” Bertram said.

Denaj Kimber was fouled on the other end, but only made 1-of-2 free throws to tie the game at 67-67. On the next AE possession, Shane Cherry would find Juwaan Troutman under the basket for his only two points of the game to give the Roadrunners a 69-67 lead with five seconds remaining.

The buzzer beater attempt by Denaj Kimber was no good, as Austin-East came away with a 69-67 win, handing Fulton only its second loss of the season.

Shane Cherry scored a game-high 41 points, including nine three-pointers, while Condis Cherry finished with 17, as the two brothers accounted for 58 of the Roadrunners’ 69 points.

Tyler Lee

Fulton’s Tyler Lee (44) drives to the basket while Shane Cherry (5), Condis Cherry (3) and Jaxson Young (23) defend. Photo by Brian Hamilton

“Those guys are just skilled with the basketball and they play at a high level,” Bertram said of the Cherry brothers. “You never see them without the ball in their hands and you have two high-level competitors. In big moments, big time competitors always want the ball and they want the opportunity to be able to help their team win at a high level. They’re not going to shy away from the moment and we’re blessed to have them stay at home at Austin-East and we’re glad that they did.”

“(Shane) Cherry had a fantastic night and made a couple of really, really tough shots,” Wright said. “When you’re giving up 69 points, you’re just not defending at a high level and I think Austin-East was hungrier tonight and that’s what my disappointment was with my guys. They played hungrier and they played with the desperation that you’ve got to have. They were the better basketball team tonight.”

Tyler Lee led Fulton with 20 points, while Taj Kimber finished with 18 points and Denaj Kimber added 17 points. Nick Steen also scored in double figures for the Falcons, with 10 points.

“You look at the twins (Denaj and Taj) and Tyler Lee and they’ve played together a long time,” Wright said. “They’ve all been 4-year starters and they have a sense of what each other is going to do, and they play well off each other, and they have a chance to really impact the game in a lot of ways. If you really get picky, it wasn’t their best effort, in a lot of ways. I think they played hard and I think they played well, but again, the standard for those three is pretty high.”

Bertram lauded the play of both Condis Cherry and Nick Steen, who are both freshmen in starting roles on senior-laden rosters.

“(Condis) is a true freshman and he made a big play (with the late runner), but they have a true freshman that’s really good also, in Nick Steen,” Bertram said. “He made plays. You know, he had that 5-point third quarter and he had a big rebound putback. Those two guys will mark their name down in this rivalry.”

Austin-East (12-6, 1-0 Class 2A District 2) will host Oneida (12-4, 3-1 District 2) in a district matchup on Thursday, January 18. Fulton (19-2, 4-0 Class 3A District 3) will not be back in action until January 26, when the Falcons travel to Northview Academy (11-9, 2-2 District 3) in a district tilt.

Fulton will look to get back on track after a 13-day layoff, as the Falcons attempt to repeat as Class 3A champions. Fulton will get another shot at the Roadrunners at Austin-East on Saturday, February 3.

“We have become complacent,” Wright said. “When you have a lot of success, that’s easy to happen, and I think we need to get back to being a hungry team, and playing with that energy and intensity. When you’re coming off a state championship and you’re 19-1, it’s easy to fall into that trap, but we’d better get out of it quick.”



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