Cullman took a couple of big punches throughout Friday’s Regional matchup against the Hazel Green Trojans but responded each time on their way to a 57-48 win. The win advances the Bearcats to the Regional Finals for the first time since the Lawson Schaffer lead team in 2015 and the 3rd time in school history (1932, 2015, 2022).
The first half can best be summed up with two things: fouls and free throws. Just a minute in, Cullman was able to get Hazel Green’s Rashawn Knox two quick fouls. Cullman took three straight charges and quickly got the Trojans in foul trouble, but they returned the favor getting Tucker Gambrill in foul trouble just a couple of minutes later.
Hazel Green took advantage and exploded on a 13-3 run to end the quarter to take a 21-13 lead after one. The Bearcats tightened up the defense for the second quarter, holding the Trojans to only 6 points in the period. With only four points not coming for free throws in the 2nd, Cullman capitalized, going 10 for 14 from the line while Hazel Green struggled at 10 for 18.
Max Gambrill was able to provide some offensive spark for the Bearcats after the slow start, scoring 8 in the first half and going 3/3 from the line. Tucker G. was able to chip in 6 despite his limited action with the two early fouls. The half came to a close with Tucker Apel taking the ball up the floor with only six seconds left and getting fouled as he took a three. He went 2/3 from the line on the trip and got Cullman within two, 27-25.
Cullman’s defensive brilliance continued in the 3rd quarter as Hazel Green’s offense often was stagnant and unable to get any good looks at the basket. Meanwhile, Cullman had players contributing from everywhere to go up 37-31 with a quarter to go. After trailing 21-13, the Bearcats outscored the Trojans 24-10.
Bearcat nation all took a sigh of relief as Garrison Sharpe opened the 4th quarter with a big 3pt shot, part of a personal 6-0 run after his and-1 to end the third. That relief was short-lived unfortunately as Hazel Green went off on a 9-0 run to tie the game at 40-40 with just a few minutes left.
With all the momentum swinging with Hazel Green, Cullman responded like a team that has been there before, going on their own 11-0 run that all but sealed the win and earned a trip to the Elite 8 in the Regional Finals. Tucker G. went a perfect 6-6 from the line during the closing stretch finishing with 12 points. Sharpe’s hit clutch free throws as well to add a team-high 14 points. Max G had 11, and Tucker Cagle rounded out the double-digit scoring for Cullman with 11.
Head Coach “Stu” Stuedeman had this to say on his team’s big win, “These guys just deserve it. All the hours they’ve put in. They’re uncommon people. Common people can’t do what they do. They just beat a really good basketball team that presented some big mismatches for us, but they competed for 32.”
Cullman improved to 26-3 on the season will take Scottsboro next Tuesday at 2:15 to play for a chance to play in the Final Four.