By David Rogers. January 15, 2019. BOONE, NC — An inconsistent line (tacking) in sailing may be the best way to reach a far-off destination, but it seldom wins the day on the basketball court.
COVER IMAGE: Sophomore forward Blane St. Clair makes an acrobatic move to the basket against Hickory. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
After host Watauga again squandered a near dominating first half lead to lose by 11 to the Red Tornadoes of Hickory, the Pioneers’ head coach Rob Sanders is scratching his head in wondering how to teach his men’s basketball team consistency — and how to put an opponent away.
Now 7-7 overall and 2-3 in Northwestern Conference play, the Pioneers face an uphill road in earning not just a berth in the state playoffs, but a higher seed in the conference tournament.
Two Hickory players accounted for over 75% of the visitors points. Cody Young and Davis Amos each had 25.
Watauga did most of its damage early, taking a 32-29 lead into intermission and at one point leading by 10. Sparking the Pioneers in the first half: Zach West’s (11 of his team-high 19 points for the game were tallied in the first half) and Blane St. Clair (9 of his 15 points came in the first half).
Hickory head coach Andy Poplin admitted to Blowing Rock News afterward that Watauga seemed better prepared, initially.
“Coach Sanders had his guys ready to play,” noted Poplin. “I was really impressed. They were moving the ball and getting great shots. He had them playing with more energy and more toughness, early. We were soft and flat, and a step behind, but we picked it up in the second quarter. We were down at one point 28-18, but we ended up getting to the locker room (at intermission) behind only 32-29. We were right back in the game.
“We had momentum and picked it up with our toughness in the second half,” Poplin recalled of his team’s play. “We played more Hickory basketball. We weren’t able to press, because (the referees) were blowing the whistle quick. The biggest adjustment we made (at half) was not going around pressing, crazy, because we were not stealing the ball, but fouling. So we were giving open shots down on the other end to their best players. So I thought, let’s just be solid, stop running around crazy, and try to guard them. So now instead of giving up open shots (at the free throw line) we were making them contested shots.”
Sanders seconded Poplin’s assessment.
“Our guys came out of the gate playing pretty good,” Sanders told reporters after the game. “We went into halftime pretty confident that we could not only play with, but beat this team. A lot of their run late in the second quarter…we thought it was on us. We just panicked. They started throwing some traps at us and we put the ball into some highly trappable areas — which is exactly what they want you to do. We just played right into their hands and that gave them some momentum and confidence going into the locker room.”
With a nod of his head to Young’s and Amos’ scoring output, Sanders said, “I told our guys that Friday night at Freedom we are going to see a lot more guys who can shoot the ball like that, so we have to improve (in contesting the ball).
If there was a bright spot in Watauga’s play Tuesday night, it was the performance of freshman forward Jonah Martin, who scored six points, all of them in the first half.
“I was talking to Coach (Bryson) Payne,” Sanders recounted for reporters. “I have always told myself that I would never keep a freshman on varsity that I wasn’t going to play. I said we need to get Martin in the game more often, even if he turns it over or has a bad night. He is here to get that experience and hopefully it will pay off later.
“As you have seen in the last two games,” Sanders added, “is why (Jonah) is on the team. He is a big body and he can move really well. He has no fear and takes the ball straight to the rim.”
In the final analysis, Sanders concluded, Watauga has to put four quarters of basketball together.
“If you look at the three (conference) losses,” the head coach said, “that is what it has been. We thought we were pretty comfortable with Alexander Central going into the half and, really, into the fourth quarter. It was the same thing with McDowell. And then for some reason we start to unravel. We start turning the basketball over, forcing up shots — really playing into the defensive scheme of (our opponent).”
- 25 – Cody Young
- 25 – Davis Amos
- 6 – Zenda Clark
- 6 – Will Delvalle
- 19 – Zach West
- 15 – Blane St. Clair
- 6 – Anderson Castle
- 6 – Jonah Martin
- 6 – Ethan Rothrock