By David Rogers. January 4, 2019. BOONE, NC — For three quarters of Friday night’s high school men’s basketball game hosted by Watauga vs. Alexander Central, it was a nip-and-tuck affair. Even though the Pioneers scored 21 points in the final period, they allowed the Cougars 34, permitting ACHS to cruise to a comfortable 83-68 win at Lentz Eggers Gym.
According to records kept by WATA Radio’s Mike Kelly, a walking encyclopedia of Watauga and High Country high school athletics, Alexander Central had not won in Boone since 2011. A smooth-running Cougar five on this night dismissed that disappointment, putting an exclamation point on their now 9-3 overall record for the 2018-19 season (2-0 in Northwestern Conference play).
The Cougars worked the ball inside and were rewarded with a double-double from 6-3 junior forward Jem Lawrence (22 points, 10 rebounds). Lyndon Strickland, Zach Wooten and Evan Presnell came off the bench to add 15, 9, and 8 points, respectively. Maddox Kerley pulled down 9 rebounds for the Cougars.
With a roster that features six players at least 6-1 in height, including Lawrence (6-3), senior Dawson Elder (6-4), sophomore Zach Herman (6-4), junior Kerney (6-5) and senior Strickland (6-2), Alexander Central had a distinct height advantage against a Watauga lineup featuring just two players at 6-3. The Pioneers may have had more speed and quickness, but it was not enough on this night to overcome the Cougars’ height and overall athleticism.
Watauga’s sophomore forward and key offensive threat, Blane St. Clair, recorded a game-high 30 points while also pulling down 7 rebounds (four on the offensive end of the floor), dishing out 5 assists and was credited with 4 steals. But the young playmaker didn’t get quite enough from elsewhere on the floor.
Jake Sears again came off the bench to sear the net for four 3-pointers to account for his 12 points, but also got into foul trouble early. Entering the game in the first quarter, Sears was quickly successful on shots from long distance and looked to be one of the Pioneers’ go-to scoring threats, but early foul trouble forced him to the bench. He shot three from downtown in the first half, but grew cold when he came off the bench in the second half, accounting for only one 3-pointer in the final stanza.
The Pioneers ended the game with five players with at least three fouls, including two who fouled out in the 4th quarter, starting guards Jaiden Bond and Zach West. It would be unfair to say, however, that Watauga’s being charged with 30 fouls vs. only 18 for the Cougars was a major factor, however, because a good portion of them were in the final two minutes when the home team was looking to get the ball back by fouling intentionally. The ploy could hardly work, though, when ACHS made 21-of-25 from the charity stripe in the second half (81.6%).
On the other end of the court, St. Clair was a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line, but the rest of the team was 2-for-13 (15.4%), which is not a recipe for countering Alexander Central’s offensive prowess. With St. Clair in the totals, Watauga shot 35.3% from the line.
The Pioneers return to the hardwoods on Tuesday at Marion-McDowell (5-6 overall, 0-2 in Northwestern Conference). They continue the grueling road schedule with a tilt against High Country rival Ashe County on January 10, then at Hickory-St. Stephens on January 11 before returning home to face Hickory on Jan. 15.
- Alexander Central used its height advantage to post a 40-26 advantage from points scored inside the paint.
- ACHS held a 34-25 edge from their bench
- In facing the Cougars’ height advantage, Watauga needed to be more effective from long range but didn’t get it. They were a respectable 36.4% from beyond the arc, but even their 33 shot opportunities (making 12 of them) were not enough.
- Jem Lawrence — 22 points, 10 rebounds
- Lyndon Strickland — 15 points, 4 rebounds
- Zach Wooten — 9 points, 6 assists, 4 steals, 4 rebounds
- Maddox Kerley — 9 rebounds
- Evan Presnell — 8 points, 2 assists
- Blane St. Clair — 30 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals
- Jake Sears — 12 points, 3 assists, 2 steals
- Anderson Castle — 11 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists