VOORHEES – Judd Holt needed stitches underneath his chin after diving on the floor during the Seagull Classic on Jan. 8.
The entire Cherokee High School boys’ basketball team needed mending with him that day after the Marlton squad lost on a buzzer-beater to Salem, 43-42.
It was the program’s fourth loss in seven games, and the last three of those were by a combined six points, including a 47-45 setback to rival Lenape in which it gave up a 17-point lead.
“They felt a little down,” head coach Eric Cassidy said. “We lost three basically buzzer-beaters for us, but that’s the way basketball is. I told ’em you just got to keep grinding. This is a long season, and we want to try and play our best basketball in the playoffs.”
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The postseason is still a month away, but Cherokee is positioning itself to be a threat in South Jersey Group 4.
The orange and white captured their sixth-straight victory on Thursday, upsetting No. 10 Eastern on the road, 56-50.
“It’s a lot of momentum,” said sophomore Judd Holt, who had a career-high 23 points. “We’ve been playing well together, we got to keep it up, keep working hard, getting better every day and keep this up.”
Players and coaches wondered aloud if Wednesday’s result would’ve been different a few weeks back.
Cherokee led by as many as 13 points against Eastern entering the fourth quarter, and the only time it trailed was after the Vikings made the first basket of the game to go up 3-0.
However, Eastern rallied with a press defense that had Cherokee out of sorts, and a turnover led to an old-fashioned three-point play for Kaedon Harper and a 44-43 Eastern advantage with 7:31 remaining.
“Earlier in the year we probably would’ve put our heads down, not fight,” senior Keishon Sellers said. “Now, we’re putting our heads up, fighting through it.”
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Cherokee went on an 11-0 run and didn’t allow another Viking point until there was less than a minute left in the game.
“A young team could’ve (folded),” Cassidy said. “They didn’t do it. They kept playing hard.”
Few showed that more than junior Chase Rovito.
The forward started the previous game against Cherry Hill East, but he didn’t see the floor until the second half against the Vikings as Cassidy continues to tinker with his lineup and rotations.
Rovito scored four key points, had a steal and an assist in the final period to help Cherokee get back on track after giving up the lead.
“That’s a testament to him as a young man not putting his head down,” Cassidy said. “This is about the team and that’s the standard here.”
Cherokee is still a “work in progress,” as Cassidy calls it, but optimism is running through the squad as it continues to surge.
As Sellers said, “Mentally, we’re a lot stronger.”
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- Holt was on fire in the first half as he scored 18 of his 23 points, and was a perfect 4-for-4 from deep. He finished 5-of-6 from beyond the arc.“I was feeling it,” Holt said. “I was shooting rough (for a) couple games. Had to stay confident, keep shooting the ball and I knew they’d fall.”So did his teammates.“Judd is one of the best shooters in South Jersey,” Sellers said. “I tell him to keep shooting. I know it’s going to go in. Best shooter I’ve ever seen.”
- Sellers had 15 points, and his jumper from the free throw line gave Cherokee a 45-44 lead with about 6:40 remaining. They wouldn’t give it up.
- Eastern started the game by grabbing four offensive rebounds on the first possession before Damien Edwards knocked down a 3-pointer. Cassidy implored Cherokee to be tougher and Will Carr delivered. He was physical on the boards (6 rebounds) and on defense. His steal on an inbounds in the final seconds clinched the victory.
- Play of the day belonged to Eastern’s Max Portnoy, who buried a three-quarter-court shot to end the first period.
- Damien Edwards led Eastern with 17 points while Portnoy had 12.
Josh Friedman has produced award-winning South Jersey sports coverage for the Courier Post, The Daily Journal and the Burlington County Times for more than a decade. If you have or know of an interesting story to tell, reach out on Twitter at @JFriedman57 or via email at email@example.com. You can also contact him at 856-486-2431. Help support local journalism with a subscription.
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