PANAMA CITY BEACH — Rutherford basketball coach Rhondie Ross was told Bay went more than 14 minutes with only a handful of baskets in Saturday’s District 1-5A championship game.
His response was quick.
“They went how long?” Ross said with surprise.
In truth, there has been little surprising with the Rams’ recent show of defensive dominance spanning more than a month. The latest display was on Saturday, when they defeated the Tornadoes 54-28 to secure Ross’ third straight district title. Rutherford ran its winning streak to 13 games since a Jan. 4 loss while holding the past 12 opponents to fewer than 50 points.
It was the third time in the span the Rams (25-3) held a team to fewer than 30, including both foes in the 1-5A tournament. Rutherford had more offensive intensity on Saturday than in a turnover-plagued 44-23 win over Pensacola West Florida Tech a day earlier. The Rams also forced 20 turnovers for the second straight night.
Ross pointed to the regular-season finale against Fort Walton Beach as the lynchpin in the streak. The Rams won 55-49 against a formidable foe and it showed how well they can shut down a potent offense.
“It was the perfect game to go into the tournament,” Ross said. “We had beaten so many teams by a large margin that I think we got bored and complacent. Good teams will help with that.”
That’s not taking anything away from West Florida Tech or Bay, he said, but he reiterated how it was important to maintain focus even with blowout victories in two prior meetings with the Tornadoes. Rutherford’s defense weathered what was a potential momentum swing after one quarter and changed the complexion of the contest through the next 16 minutes.
Bay (16-11) narrowed the gap to 18-12 at the end of the first quarter with two baskets in the final 30 seconds. The second and final shot was a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Markeis Goodman. However, rather than challenge more the Tornadoes withered.
Goodman scored Bay’s only basket of the second quarter, as Rutherford moved ahead 33-16 at halftime. The Tornadoes didn’t score another field goal until a Ryan Norwood 3-pointer with 1:30 left to play in the third quarter. By then the game was 42-20 and comfortably in Rutherford’s favor.
“When you have momentum you have to score,” Bay coach Michael Grady said. “We missed some easy put backs and against a team like Rutherford you need all the points you can get. We had intensity, we just didn’t do anything with it.”
Rutherford matched Bay with a buzzer beater by Keith Arts to end the first half. The Rams went on to limit Bay to less than 10 points in each of the final two quarters for the victory.
Khaliel Spearman led the Rams with 13 points, while senior Kiki Williamson added 10 and Gabriel Steele and Alex Banks eight each. Banks is one of seven seniors on the team.
“I’m so happy and proud for our seniors,” Ross said. “People don’t realize how much work they put in. They don’t realize how much work goes into a basketball game. I call it a production and it takes everyone.”
Demetrius Rivers was Bay’s lone double-figure scorer with 11 points. The Tornadoes will travel to Tallahassee Rickards in the Region 1-5A opener on Thursday.
Rutherford earned the right to host at least one regional game. It will do so against Live Oak Suwannee on Thursday.
- BAY (28)
- Norwood 1 0-0 3, Goodman 2 0-0 5, Shorter 1 0-0 2, Rivers 4 2-4 11, Patterson 1 0-0 2, Wade 0 1-2 1, Brown 2 0-0 4. Totals: 11 3-6 28.
- RUTHERFORD (54)
- Steele 3 2-2 8, Williamson 5 0-0 10, Spearman 5 0-0 13, Banks 3 2-2 8, Arts 3 0-0 6, Carr 1 0-0 2, Jencks 3 1-2 7. Totals: 23 5-6 54.
- Bay 12 4 4 8 — 28
- Rutherford 18 15 9 12 — 54
- 3-point field goals: Bay 3 (Norwood, Goodman, Shorter), Rutherford 3 (Spearman 3). Turnovers: Bay 20, Rutherford 9, Team fouls: Bay 8, Rutherford 8. Fouled out: None.