By David Rogers. January 20, 2017. BOONE, NC — It may have been a classic battle between the Pioneers and the Indians, but the Pioneers couldn’t circle their wagons fast enough. Watauga’s Pioneers ran out of steam in the 4th quarter in a frustrating, 70-58 loss to the visiting St. Stephens Indians.
COVER IMAGE: Freshman point guard Jaiden Bond drives to the basket in the second half. Photographic image by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News.
The game was closer than the score suggests. For the second game in a row Watauga fought bravely through three quarters, but its injury riddled roster simply ran out of gas in the final stanza. After tying the game early in the final period, St. Stephens capitalized on a distinctive height advantage to get separation, expanding to as much as a 14 point lead. The pesky Pioneers whittled the deficit down to 6 late in the game, but desperation fouls put too many Indians at the charity stripe too often — and they rarely missed.
Watauga jumped out to an early 6-1 advantage, but St. Stephens went on a 6-0 run and took its first lead with just over 3 minutes to go in the first period. From there it was an exciting, back and forth affair, at least through three quarters of the game. The Pioneers trailed by only a basket, 25-23 at intermission and by just the measure of a three-pointer, 39-36 at the end of the third quarter.
Watauga quickly evened the score at 39 points when senior wing Hayes Henderson netted the last of his three, 3-pointers on the night, but then St. Stepens went on a 14-0 run to put the game away. Henderson finished with a game-high 16 points.
St. Stephens’ senior forward Kollin Klingenberg pumped in a team-high 15 points, six of those in the decisive fourth quarter to help the Indians expand their lead to as many as 14 points midway through the final period. Thanks in large part to Henderson’s 9 points in the final period, Watauga made a go of it to get within 6 points, but with time running out the Pioneers were forced to foul in order to get the ball back, hoping against hope that the Indians’ would not be up to the task of shooting free throws.
Pioneer head coach Rob Sanders admitted to reporters later that his team knew St. Stephens was a pretty good free throw shooting team, perhaps even among the best in the Northwestern Conference. He said he turned to his assistant coaches and asked them who they should focus on to foul, who was shooting cold on the night.
No. 20 for the Indians, the 5-9 senior guard Noah Brown was one of the names that popped out at them. He had only two points through the first three quarters and had made just 2-of-6 from the charity stripe thus far in the 4th quarter, so that was as good of a target as any, the Pioneer coaches reasoned.
As if on cue, Brown turned it around, getting 11 of his game total 13 points in the final period — and that included hitting seven straight from the free throw line down the stretch.
That the game was closer than the score indicates is reflected in the stats. The lead changed hands 13 times and was tied 10 times.
To say that the Pioneers’ roster was lacking depth would be an understatement. With a stress fracture injury to junior point guard and leading offensive threat Bryant Greene some three weeks ago, the Pioneers were already looking for scoring production. Then last weekend senior wing Evan Suggs was forced to the hospital for emergency surgery. Senior point guard Corey West was forced to the bench for the St. Stephens matchup, serving a one-game suspension for violating team rules. With his “thin” roster getting almost “gaunt,” Sanders recently brought up two players from the junior varsity, Eli Klein and Jaiden Bond.
Bond, just a freshman, showed enough in his reserve role at point guard to probably earn even more playing time in the weeks ahead — and to stir the imaginations of the Pioneer faithful and fuel their “hoop dreams” for the next three years.
“I always tell my guys playing from the bench,” noted Sanders, “that when they get on the floor they need to do something that makes me not want to take them off the floor. Jaiden did that tonight. He brought energy to the court and he was slashing to the basket. He was fearless. If anything, he didn’t go to the hoop enough. It was like he had made up his mind before making his drive to the basket that he was going to pass it, to kick it out to the wing. That’s good, but he passed up some makeable shots, as well as opportunities to draw fouls.”
Bond finished the game with six points, all in the second half.
Sanders told reporters later that Bond was making young mistakes, but that he showed enough to provide some comfort for the Pioneers 14-year hoops mentor about the point guard position. “Corey West has served his one-game suspension for violating team rules, so that his behind him. Now we not only have Zach West as a backup, but Jaiden Bond, too.”
Watauga (6-11 overall and 1-7 in Northwestern Conference) now plays two games on the road at Fred T. Foard in Newton (Jan. 24) and Freedom in Morganton (Jan. 27) before facing Hibriten in the friendly confines of Lentz-Eggers Gym on Jan. 31. (8:00 pm).
- 15 — Klingenberg
- 13 — Brown
- 11 — Shumate
- 9 — Bullock
- 9 — Pyatte
- 6 — Huitt
- 3 — Cline
- 2 — Powell
- 2 — Isenhour
- 16 — Henderson
- 14 — Ringler
- 8 — Marinakis
- 7 — McClannon
- 6 — Bond
- 3 — Castle
- 2 — Crabbe
- 1 — McConnell
- 1 — Z. West