The basketball was a buttery blur: From Gavin Gibson to Rich Laird to Tymere Bennett to Tyler Ludwikowski, open in the corner for the shot of the game.
"We tell the kids all the time, 'It's not the shot, it's what happens before the shot,'" Cherokee coach Eric Cassidy said.
In this case, it was both. The Chiefs' ball movement, especially Bennett's decision to kick it out from the paint, set up Ludkowski with an open look from behind the three-point line.
But the senior guard still had to make it.
Ludwikowski's three-pointer gave Cherokee a 43-42 lead with 2 minutes, 35 seconds to play, and the Chiefs closed the deal with solid defense and clutch free-throw shooting in a 49-44 victory over host Cherry Hill East on Tuesday afternoon.
"This team is always fighting back," Ludwikowski said. "It just shows how resilient we are."
Ludwikowski finished with 14 points, including two three-pointers in the final 3:35, and Bennett generated 13 points and eight rebounds along with the assist on the game's biggest basket for Cherokee (15-6, 6-1 in the Olympic American), the No. 7 team in the Inquirer Top 25.
Gibson, a sophomore guard, made two free throws at 0:22 and Laird, a junior guard, made three of four in the final 0:14 as Cherokee clinched a share of the division title.
"These guys just bought in and kept working all season to improve," said Cassidy, whose team can clinch the division title outright with a victory Thursday over No. 9 Eastern.
Senior swingman Dienye Peterside scored a career-high 20 points and junior guard Carl Gibson added 10 for No. 24 Cherry Hill East (11-12, 1-5).
"This game showed our growth," Cherry Hill East coach Dave Allen said. "The last time we played them at Cherokee, they crushed us. This time, it was a two-point game before we had to start fouling."
Allen said Peterside, who was 3 for 3 from three-point range and also grabbed six rebounds, "played his best game."
Cherokee played without junior guard Anthony DiCaro, the Chiefs' leading scorer, who is nursing a leg injury. Cassidy said DiCaro should be back in time for the start of the South Jersey Group 4 tournament, if not sooner.
"With 'Ant' out, I knew I had to step up for my team," Ludwikowski said. "The guys got me the ball in position, and I was able to make them."
The game was a microcosm of Cherokee's season — slow start, furious finish.
Cherokee started 1-4, including an 0-1 mark in the division. But the Chiefs have won 14 of 16, with six straight wins against Olympic American foes.
On Tuesday, both teams were a bit sluggish in the first quarter, and tied 20-20 at half. Cherry Hill East had a seven-point lead in the third and still led by 39-35 on Peterside's three-pointer with 4:18 to play.
"We just kept our composure," Bennett said. "That's the big thing with this team."
Three-pointers by Gibson and Ludwikowski sparked Cherokee's rally in the fourth quarter. Sam Serata's three-pointer gave Cherry Hill East its last lead at 42-40 at the 3:09 mark, setting the stage for Ludwikowski's decisive shot.
"I always know where Tyler's going to be," Bennett said. "They were collapsing on me. I figured I would kick it out and Tyler hit the big shot."
Cherokee 7 13 10 19 — 49
Cherry Hill East 6 14 12 12 – 44
C: Tyler Ludwikowski 14, Tymere Bennett 13, Gavin Gibson 10, Jordan Hayes 1, Rich Laird 11.