CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman Bearcats secured a spot in the 6A Sub-Regionals with an area championship win over Hartselle earlier this week and they were back at Bearcat Arena Saturday night with a chance to play in the Sweet 16 on the line. Lee-Huntsville made the trip to face Cullman and after three back and forth quarters, the ‘Cats were able to wear down the Generals in the final frame and punched their ticket to the Northwest Regional Tournament with a 70-58 win. Bearcats Head Coach Stu Stuedeman and his team spent a lot of time preparing for the pressure Lee-Huntsville was going to create defensively and gave his guys high praise for the way they executed that plan.
“Fantastic. You’re going to turn it over against them because they’re all over the place. They trap you from the time the ball is tipped up to the end of the game so you’re going to have to live with the turnovers, but I feel like our guys were really prepared for that. We played five on seven in practice and our guys really handled it great for the most part,” Stuedeman said. “We were able to punish them for what they do well and exploit it and it wasn’t perfect but it’s playoff basketball and it’s not going to be perfect. It’s all about players making plays at this point and our guys had a lot of guts. They just wore them down and wore them down and then knocked them out, it was great.”
Sam Duskin led the way for Cullman with a game-high 32 points and Stuedeman was excited to see all of the senior’s hard work pay off in a big moment.
“Sam is a special player. You don’t go to the Air Force Academy if you’re not a special person and a special player. What I love about Sam, he had a rough month, and he was questioning if he was a star player and he just stayed the course, came to work every day and now at the right time, Sam is doing special things for us,” Stuedeman said. “I’m so happy for him, and it’s all him. He worked his tail off, didn’t get too down in the dumps and stayed the course and now he’s balling.”
Baskets by Jake Dorough and Colton Echols gave Cullman a 4-2 start in the opening period and Sam Duskin drained a three to make it 7-2. Duskin scored inside and Dorough knocked down a three-pointer to keep the Bearcats in front 12-6. Duskin caught fire in the final three minutes of the first quarter, scoring eight straight points for the ‘Cats to help give them a 20-15 lead at the start of the second.
Lee was able to cut into the lead early in the second quarter, but Gray Hopper drilled a three to keep Cullman ahead 23-21. Hopper buried another three to make it a 29-28 game later in the period and after Dorough laid one in, Kase Nixon drained another three to stretch the lead to 34-28 with two minutes remaining in the first half. Duskin knocked down a jumper to give Cullman a 36-30 lead with just over a minute to play in the second and Brodie Bannister split a pair of free throws in the final seconds of the half to make it a 37-35 game at the break.
Three-pointers from Bannister and Sam Dorough put the Bearcats in front 43-40 early in the third quarter and Echols scored through a foul and tacked on the free throw to make it 46-40. Baskets from Duskin and Evan Wilson gave Cullman a 5-point lead with one minute to play in the period and Duskin sank a pair of free throws just before the end of the third to make it a 52-47 game at the start of the fourth.
Wilson laid one in, and Dorough split a pair of free throws to start the final frame, but it was all Duskin after that. He scored the next eight points for the ‘Cats, finishing his scoring run with an emphatic dunk that extended the lead to 63-51 with a minute remaining in the game. The Bearcats finished things at the free throw line in the final minute, hitting five of their last six foul shots to wrap up a 70-58 win over the Generals and punch their ticket to the sweet 16.
Duskin racked up 32 points for Cullman in the win. Jake Dorough posted 10 and Bannister added seven.
The Bearcats will be on the court at Wallace State’s Tom Drake Coliseum Thursday to face Muscle Shoals in the first round of the Northwest Regional Tournament.
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