It is still hard to knock the top dog — the top Lion, in this case — off the throne.
For a good part of its game last Friday, East Nashville looked like it would be the first team to get the best reigning Class AA state basketball champion Christ Presbyterian Academy in a battle of 10-AA unbeatens.
CPA, which trailed by 15 points late in the second quarter, showed it won’t go down easily. The Lions rallied behind smooth as silk forward Jalen Lindsey and knocked off the host Eagles 73-61.
Even without last year’s Mr. Basketball Craig Bradshaw, who is now at Belmont, CPA’s play appears to be close the championship level of last March. With their win, the Lions moved to 6-0, 3-0. East fell to 6-1, 2-1.
Trailing 43-33 at the half, CPA gradually closed the gap and finally went ahead 54-52 on Braxton Blackwell’s basket early in the fourth quarter.
“I may have been as calm as I’ve ever been at halftime of a game where we were losing so badly,” coach Drew Maddux said. “I told them it was a blessing to be down and not worry when our expectation was to play perfect. I told them to relax, go back out and play hard.”
Lindsey scored 18 of his game-high 32 points in the second half. Blackwell scored nine of his 13 after intermission. Guard Braxton Bonds chipped in14.
Then they watched the Eagles fall apart. Shots East hit routinely in the first half started to bounce off the rim. Terry Holt (19) and Bobby Scott (14), who combined for 33 points to lead East’s offense, had just seven between them in the final two periods
Holt hit a 55-foot shot at the first quarter buzzer. That gave East an 18-15 lead, and by halftime it had scored 43. In the second half the Eagles scored 18 total.
In the space of three minutes, Lindsey, who has 15 Division I scholarship offers, hit a slam dunk, two 3-pointers, the first of which gave CPA the lead for good, 59-57, then assisted on Thomas Richard’s lay-up, which gave the Lions a 64-57 lead.
This came after East stormed to a 42-27 lead just before halftime.
“Coach just told us at halftime to stay calm,” Lindsey said. “We came back out and played our game. Shots started falling for us. I credit my teammates for setting me up for shots, and I was able to make a few.”
Added Maddux: “It shows you how determined and driven he is and when he knows he has to step up his game.”
Noting a rivalry that is as intense as any in Nashville, East coach Jim Fey was disappointed his team came close but again couldn’t close the deal against CPA.
“I think this as fierce a public versus private school rivalry as there is in Nashville,” Fey said after the game.
He has made no secret of his dislike of the advantage he feels private schools have over the public in certain areas, particularly in the distances the private schools can go to draw players from.
“We started missing shots, their press affected us a little bit, and we had some bad mental lapses. Sometimes, it seems their kids buy into more of what [Maddux] says than the kids do with our team,” Fey added.
Then he had a warning. “We are as good as they are. At some point this season, we’re going to beat them,” he said.
The next chance is at CPA Jan. 22. A possible third game looms in the district tournament.
• Whites Creek senior forward Alexis Lang scored her 1,000th point in the Cobras’ 53-21 district romp over Maplewood. She scored 17 in the contest and the Cobras improved to 8-1 overall (3-0 in the district).
• Led by offensive MVP Reese Phillips, the East rolled to a 41-20 victory in the sixth annual East-West Tennessee All-Star classic in Cookeville. Ensworth linebacker Anthony Batey was named West defensive player of the game, racking up a game-high 10 tackles.
• On the strength of its Division II-AA state championship, Ensworth moved up to No. 9 in the USA Today Super 25 prep football poll.
• McGavock made just 19-of-40 free throws in its 97-96 triple overtime loss to Independence last Tuesday. “If we just make one more somewhere in there, we win,” coach Marlin Simms said. “I believe that is something we’ll work on in practice this week.’’
• The Hume-Fogg Academic baseball team has been invited to play in the 20th annual Aggie Classic Tournament, March 18-21 at Pensacola, Fla. The Knights are one of 22 teams scheduled to compete. Games will be played at six sites, and the championship game will be played in the Pensacola Blue Wahoos minor league stadium.
“We are looking forward to competing against some of the top teams in the Southeast,” coach Coby Ginsberg said in a release. “For our seniors, it will be their first trip to Florida and we hope to make it a memorable one.”
• Oscar Pistorius, the South African sprinter who was the first amputee to compete in the Olympics, is scheduled to speak at Ensworth High, 7 p.m., Jan. 17. Tickets are available for $60 (general admission) or, $500 (a post-event dinner). For information: (931) 624-7243 for information.
• Whitehaven coach Rodney Saulsberry whose team won the Class 6A state football championship last week and finished 15-0 was named the Tennessee Titans high school coach of the year. He will be recognized prior to the Titans final home game Dec. 30.