By David Rogers. December 19, 2017. TAYLORSVILLE, NC — In many basketball games, giving up two unnecessary points may not mean much. Then again, it could.
COVER IMAGE: Alex Marinakis (11) poured in a game-high 21 points for Watauga. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Blowing Rock News coverage of Watauga High School men’s sports is made possible by a sponsorship from New River Building Supply
Alexander Central escaped a 21-9 comeback performance Tuesday night, taking the Pioneers 64-62 in a game that was not decided until the last second.
This game had a little bit of everything unusual. Before the game even officially started, the Pioneers were charged with a technical foul. One of the officials said that senior power forward Alex McConnell had dunked the ball during warm-ups and dunking is a no-no in high school basketball. Pioneer head coach Rob Sanders confided to Blowing Rock News afterwards, “I don’t know what they saw, because he (Alex) can’t dunk the ball. He can touch the rim, but he can’t dunk.”
When you combine that two-point head start with Watauga’s 66.7% shooting from the charity stripe and Alexander Central’s 91.3% performance from the free throw line, you have the makings of a long night for the High Country visitors. Add in ACHS’ outscoring Watauga 28-18 inside the paint and receiving a 17-14 edge from their bench — including an eight rebound, 11-point performance from sophomore Jem Lawrence in coming off the Cougar bench for just 21 minutes — and the Pioneer night got even longer.
Each team had three players in double figures, scoring. Watauga’s Alex Marinakis shot a game-high 21 to go with six rebounds, while the team’s leading scorer, Bryant Greene, had one of his quieter nights with 13 points and tying Marinakis for team-high honors in rebounds, with six. Hayes Henderson came off the bench to put in 11 points on the night.
Alexander Central’s big forward Lyndon Strickland led the Eagles with 20 points, while guard Blan Hodges contributed 15, in addition to Lawrence’s 11.
Watauga didn’t get its first decisive lead until the third quarter, but for the game the score was tied seven times and the lead changed hands 10 times.
With just over three minutes to play, Watauga led 57-51 and looked to have momentum on its side. But turnovers and missed baskets allowed the Cougars to even things up at 57 just a minute later. The Pioneers led 62-61 with a minute to play, but a layup and foul shot by Lawrence with roughly 48 seconds left gave ACHS a 64-62 lead that would become the game’s final margin. With 5.7 seconds left, the Cougars were awarded the ball on a tie-up, but just after it was in-bounded, pressure by Watauga caused the Alexander Central recipient to travel, giving the ball back to Watauga with 3.4 seconds remaining on the clock.
Sanders quickly called a timeout and drew up a play. As soon as the players had taken the floor and gotten into position, ACHS head coach Ed Wills called a timeout to re-assess the team’s defense. Sanders drew up a different play, and the cat and mouse finish continued.
For Watauga, the final opportunity evolved just as Sanders had drawn it up on his whiteboard. Everyone moved and it opened up a clear channel for guard Zach West to zip the ball on the inbounds pass to Bryant Greene. Probably seven out of 10 times the sharpshooting senior guard drills an open shot from behind the three-point arc, but this was one of those other three times when it caromed just off the top of the rim as the buzzer sounded.
As good as Greene is, three-pointers are never a “gimme” and carry a much lower probability of finding success than, say, a layup. A layup would have sent the game into overtime. A 3-pointer wins a game that was really lost at the foul line and inside the paint for the game’s duration.
Watauga, now 4-2 overall and 1-1 in Northwestern Conference play, returns to the friendly confines of Lentz-Eggers gym in Boone on Wednesday, December 20th, looking for revenge for a 70-66 defeat at the hands of Wilkes Central to open the season. The varsity men’s game comes at the end of a succession that includes the junior varsity girls (tipoff at 4:00 pm), the junior varsity boys, and the varsity women.
Alexander Central, now 4-3 overall and 2-0 in Northwestern Conference, hosts Statesville (3-6) on Wednesday.