This was a step up in competition.
Facing its first real test of the season, McCutcheon separated itself from rival Harrison in the second and third quarters, outscoring the Raiders by 27 in the middle two periods and riding that to an 82-64 J&C Hoops Classic semifinal victory at the Crawley Center.
“It took a quarter for us to adjust to the level of competition,” McCutcheon coach Rick Peckinpaugh said. “Harrison is a whole lot better than those two teams were at that time and our kids came in used to playing a certain speed and getting by with it. It took a quarter to kick in.”
Using the same aggressive defense that led to easy transition layups in those two games, McCutcheon scored 29 points off 19 forced turnovers to reach the tournament’s championship round against Lafayette Jeff.
But it wasn’t easy.
Harrison (2-1) was unfazed by the three-time defending J&C Hoops Classic champion and led 17-11 six minutes in before Robert Phinisee registered two steals that led to baskets during an 8-0 McCutcheon run.
With the score tied at 21, McCutcheon closed the first half on a 19-6 run and Darnell Butler took over in the third quarter.
Butler, last year’s tournament Most Valuable Player, scored 13 points in the second half’s first four minutes and finished with a game-high 30.
“Once we got going, we were pretty good, but we hadn’t played that level of competition yet and it was hard for us to adjust at the beginning,” Butler said. “It really starts with Robert. He’s really long and he gets us steals and gets our team going.”
McCutcheon’s lead grew as large as 30, overshadowing stellar performances by Harrison sophomore tandem Jakub Hall and Benito Munoz.
Hall scored 22, going 8-for-8 from the field, and Munoz added 20. Jack Mathew had 11 points and eight rebounds, but also turned the ball over seven times.
“We did some good things but you can’t give the ball away,” Harrison coach Mark Rinehart said. “We were down 13 at halftime and they had 14 fast-break points. Everybody knows what they are going to do. They are going to gamble in passing lanes and they are good at it. They have great athletes. But that’s not acceptable.”
Butler was joined in double-figure scoring by Phinisee and Haden Deaton, who each scored 17. Phinisee also had seven assists and four steals and Deaton led the Mavericks in rebounds with seven.
“We are seven or eight deep, maybe nine,” Deaton said. “If someone isn’t having a good night, someone else can step up and have a good night. That’s just how we are. And I think we can be really good because of that.”