Mike Self-FCT Sports Editor

By Staff
CHEROKEE - Nathan Hamilton is starting to get the hang of this whole point guard gig.
They say the true test of a point guard's mettle is how he handles playing under pressure.
You want pressure?
How about five frenzied defenders chasing you all over the court, bent on taking the ball away from you in the fourth quarter of an area game that just happens to be tighter than Under Armour? On the road. Oh, and throw in coughing fits between plays, just for good measure.
How's that for a pressure situation?
Hamilton passed the test with flying colors, scoring a game-high 20 points and assisting on some key baskets down the stretch as Belgreen improved to 4-2 in area play with Tuesday's hard-fought 69-64 victory over Cherokee.
Not everyone was pleased with Hamilton's performance.
"I didn't think we handled the pressure too well," said Hamilton, who played forward almost exclusively last season as a junior. "We just tried to get the ball down the court and get it inside to our big guys. They went to a box-and-one on me in the fourth quarter, and I knew that somebody else would be open."
Hamilton dribbled through the pressure and found Josh Smith underneath for layups on consecutive possessions late in the fourth quarter as the Bulldogs (4-4 overall) tried to hold off the resilient Indians.
"Give Cherokee credit. They had a good game plan, and they really took the ball to us and got some easy shots for the first three quarters," Belgreen coach Steve Pounders said. "There in the last three minutes or so, we were finally able to force them to take some more difficult shots. Fortunately for us, the shots didn't fall.
"This is a big win for us. We want to win as many area games as we can so we'll have a chance to host the area tournament."
It took a total team effort for the Bulldogs to come away with a win. Senior forward Cody Rikard scored nine of his 17 points in the fourth quarter, and fellow post player Avis Smith added 11 points. Senior Josh Dobbs made several key plays early in the fourth quarter.
"When somebody goes into the game, I expect them to contribute in some way, whether it's getting a big steal or coming up with a big rebound or whatever," Pounders said. "They're not out there to fill up space or take up time. We play nine guys, and I expect all of them to make contributions. And so do they."
Pounders was pleased with the way his team handled Cherokee's full-court pressure.
The Bulldogs took the lead for good with an 8-0 run midway through the fourth quarter. Josh Smith's layup capped the spurt and gave Belgreen a 63-57 lead with 3:00 remaining.
The game was still up for grabs until the final seconds, when Cherokee missed a potential game-tying three-pointer and Smith sank a free throw to give the Bulldogs a 68-64 lead.
Rikard then came up with a steal to seal the win.
Cherokee led by six late in the third quarter until Hamilton heated up from behind the arc, drilling three straight treys as part of a 9-1 run that gave Belgreen a 48-46 lead.
Hamilton's barrage included a step-back three-pointer as the third-quarter buzzer sounded.
"Coach wanted us to play for one shot, and he usually likes for us to shoot it with about five or six seconds left," Hamilton said. "I told Colby that I was hot and I wanted to shoot that one."
Hamilton's performance was all the more impressive considering that he was less than 100 percent physically.
"I went to the doctor yesterday, and he gave me a shot and told me not to do anything active all day," Hamilton said. "So I didn't practice or anything."
Was there any chance Hamilton was going to miss the game?
"Unless I'm dead, I'm playing," he said.
After a basket by Cherokee to open the fourth quarter, Dobbs made three free throws and then found Rikard underneath for a layup to give the Bulldogs their largest lead at 53-48.
Cherokee rallied to claim a 57-55 lead on a basket by Austin Phillips with 4:45 to play.
Rikard tied the game with two free throws, and Belgreen never trailed again.
Cherokee's largest lead was nine points at 25-16 midway through the second quarter. Hamilton had seven points and Barnett made a key three-pointer as Belgreen closed the half on a 14-5 run to tie the game 30-30.
Brinnon Holliday finished with a team-high 18 points for Cherokee, and Phillips added 17.
Josh Smith finished with eight points for Belgreen, and Andrew Cansler added five. Dobbs and Barnett each had three, and Will Richardson added two.

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