Morristown East - Rossview

Morristown East’s historic run ends at the hands of Rossview in the state quarterfinals


MURFREESBORO – Both Rossview and Morristown East entered the game in unfamiliar territory, as the Hawks were playing in the school’s first Elite Eight in its 23-year history and the Hurricanes snapped a 45-year drought, advancing to state for the first time since 1979.

The teams both traded punches early, but it was Rossview that took over in the second half, capitalizing on its opportunity, and picking up a 64-43 win in its first state tournament appearance.

While Morristown East lost to a very talented Rossview team, the Hurricanes left the floor at the Murphy Center with nothing to hang their heads about.


Morristown East’s Kyle Cloninger (3) goes up for a three while Rossview defenders contest. Photo by Brian Hamilton

“I told them to let it sting a little bit, but don’t let it shadow the special things you’ve done this year,” Morristown head coach Brice Cusick said after the loss. “We set a goal and we accomplished it with flying colors. All year, we don’t lose a district game and we win the region for the first time in history. They gave the community, and myself, memories that we are going to cherish forever and the last two or three weeks have been phenomenal.”

Morristown East jumped out to a fast start and held its own in the first half, only trailing by three points at halftime, but a quick 10-0 run to start the third quarter, accompanied by a stifling Rossview defense, spelled the Hurricanes.

“They put it on us,” Morristown East head coach Brice Cusick said. “They put outstanding pressure on us. We had some great looks that just kind of rimmed in and out and didn’t fall and they capitalized on it every time. Credit them and their defense.”

This was Cusick’s trip to the state championships as a head coach, but it wasn’t the first-year Hurricane coach’s first rodeo. Cusick played on the 2014 Jefferson County team in its only state tournament appearance in program history.

“It’s 10-times better (as a coach), because I know these kids have worked their way, and their goal this year was to make the state tournament,” Cusick said. “We kept telling them, ‘It’s substate first, to get a chance to go’, and then we get there and take care of business. I couldn’t be more proud of them. They’ve set the standard at Morristown East.”

Morristown East jumped out to an early 3-0 lead when Mason Smith hit a three-pointer. Landon Hankemeier answered on the other end with a layup to trim the Rossville deficit to 3-2.

Nicholas Dougherty hit a three for Morristown East, but Hankemeier responded with a dunk to make the score 6-4. Kyle Cloninger answered with a triple on the other end, increasing the Hurricanes’ lead to 9-4 with just under six minutes left in the quarter.

Morristown East continued to lead throughout most of the first quarter, but a three by Jiyair Rose tied the game at 13-13 with 2:43 left in the first period.

Jacob Edwards gave the Hawks their first lead of the game, when the senior hit a layup to make the score 15-13 with 1:40 left. Cameryn Ward would follow that with a layup in the paint, as Rossview led 17-14 after one quarter.


Morristown East’s Nicholas Dougherty (33) goes up for a rebound, which is snatched by Rossview’s Landon Hankemeier (15). Photo by Brian Hamilton

Cloninger opened the second quarter with a layup to trim the Rossview deficit to 17-16, but two straight baskets by the Hawks would push the lead to 21-16 with 4:18 left in the half.

East’s Mason Smith hit a three with 2:37 left to cut the deficit to one, but Quamond Linsey answered with a triple, giving the Hawks a 26-22 advantage.

Smith drained another three, which was followed by a three by Rossview’s Ward, putting the Hawks in front 29-25, as the teams began to trade three-pointers.

Morristown East cut the deficit to one with 27 seconds left, but Hankemeier made a layup with 12 seconds remaining to send the Hawks to the half with a 31-28 lead, as Cloninger missed a three at the buzzer.

Both teams shot 41-percent in the first half, but the Hurricanes shot 35-percent from three, while Rossview hit just 23-percent of its shots from downtown.

“We knew coming in that they had three guys who hit 70-plus threes, so we knew that we had to defend that,” Rossview head coach Johnny Jackson said. “We know that they pretty much take nothing but threes and nothing but layups, so there’s no in between with them. They run so many sets to get their guys threes and they hit them early, so we just had to weather the storm.”

Rossview came out of the locker room and immediately went on a 10-0 run, capped by a Hankemeier layup, making the score 41-28 with 5:21 left in the third quarter.

Smith finally stopped the bleeding for Morristown East when the senior hit a three to trim the Hurricane deficit to 41-31 with 4:42 left in the third.

The Hawks continued to keep their foot on the gas in the third quarter, leading by was many as 18 in the period. Rossview outscored Morristown East 20-7 in the quarter and would take a 51-35 lead into the final quarter.

“I think that when you see balls go in the hoop, it kind of makes you play harder defensively,” Jackson said of his team’s third quarter surge. “I think we were just settling for deep threes, not routine threes, so we decided to listen a little bit and attack the rim. It was a good run for us.”

Rossview would stretch the lead to 20 early in the fourth on a Linsey layup, putting the Hawks in front 55-35. The lead would reach as many as 24 points, as both teams eventually cleared the benches and gave their starters an ovation. Rossview would go on to win the game by a score of 64-43.

The win sends the Hawks (25-9) to the Class 4A semifinals for the first time ever, as Morristown East sees its historic season end at 28-9.

“I know we didn’t come out with a win, but it was still really special, just to be able to play with all my friends here,” Senior Mason Smith said after the game. It was a great experience to exceed what our goal was at the beginning of the year and giving the fans and community something to cheer about, so it really was a great experience.”

Morristown East’s Kyle Cloninger led all scorers with 17 points and eight rebounds, while Cameryn Ward led Rossview with 16 points.

Kyle Cloninger

Kyle Cloninger (3) goes up for a bucker over Rossview’s Landon Hankemeier (15) and Jacob Edwards (22). Photo by Brian Hamilton

Cloninger finished his career as a Hurricane with over 2,400 career points and etched his name as the leading scorer in Morristown East history.

“You don’t see the type of player he is without seeing the person he is every single day,” Cusick said of Cloninger. “Especially how he walks the halls and how his teammates respect him and how he reciprocates that, because he’s just a good human being. The fourth-graders and fifth-graders, they have something to look up to, and it’s not only Kyle, but the whole senior class. They’ve just been role models for those kids to look up to. It all starts at the top and it trickles down.”

Landon Hankemeier finished the game with 14 points and nine rebounds, while Jacob Edwards and Quamond Linsey added 12 for the Hawks.

The only Hurricane player in double digits outside of Cloninger was Mason Smith, who scored all of his 12 points on 4-9 shooting from long range.

Rossview shot just over 43-percent for the game, while holding Morristown East to just under 29-percent shooting, much of which resulted from their staunch defense in the second half.

“We like to play up and down and take a lot of threes,” Cusick said. “A lot of people might not agree with that, but it’s the way we play. We attack the rim and we shoot a lot of threes. That’s what we do. It worked out in the first half, but in the second half it didn’t go our way. When we don’t hit the three, which we’ve done a couple times this year, we’ve found ways to win, but like I said, their defense was incredible.”

Regardless of Wednesday afternoon’s result, Cusick took some time to reflect on what his first season as head coach of the Hurricanes meant to him.

“They set the bar high and I told them in the locker room, ‘Thanks for letting me tag along and ride your coattails’, because we had a group that were senior-led,” Cusick said. “They did some things that were really special, that they are going to remember for a long time.”


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