The teams combined to score just 12 points in the first quarter, and Wheeler held a narrow 16-12 lead at the half.
But the Wildcats (10-4, 6-0 Region 5AAAAAA) began making more of their shots and were nearly flawless from the free-throw line, as they pulled away in the second half by scoring in double digits in both the third and fourth quarters.
After an alley-oop dunk by Wheeler’s Jaylen Brown opened the game, the teams settled in and began playing tight defense. Rather than running the court and looking for quick baskets, the offenses set up, often passing the ball more than a dozen times before taking a shot.
Wheeler led 7-5 at the end of the first.
Cherokee (13-3, 4-2) closed the gap after that.
Jeremiah Gill made a short jumper, and Zack Kvam followed with a baseline 3-pointer to give Cherokee its first lead of the night — 10-9 — with 6:15 left in the first half. The teams traded baskets and the Warriors led 12-11 with 4 minutes in the half, but that would be the last time they were in front.
Brown scored on a putback, and a 3 by Avery Patterson gave the Wildcats a 16-12 lead at the break.
In the second half, Wheeler began making some of the contested layups that it missed in the first half — or at least it was able to draw a foul.
Patterson scored six of his team-leading 13 points in the period, while Brown made a series of free-throw attempts.
Patterson’s layup at the end of the third gave Wheeler its biggest lead of the night to that point, at 30-20.
The fourth quarter, which saw Brown add to his free throw total, was capped by a game-ending 3-pointer by Gill.
Brown finished with nine points for Wheeler, while Maleek Catchings scored eight.
Gill led Cherokee with 18 points. Kvam added nine, while Jovan Morris and Christian Vines each made a basket to account for the other Warrior points.