By David Rogers. January 23, 2018. BOONE, NC — Sweet revenge over visiting Alexander Central was the order of the night Tuesday at Lentz Eggers Gym, and it was a challenge Watauga men’s basketball team met victoriously, 54-40, even with one leg buried in a bucket of cement.
COVER IMAGE: Senior guard/forward Hayes Henderson (5) launches one of his two successful 3-pointers on the night. A two=sport
Henderson recently signed to play collegiate baseball at Guilford College in Greensboro.
Well, OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the Pioneers’ leading offensive threat, senior shooting guard Bryant Greene, was “under the weather” with the flu and saw only limited playing time. So the “leg in a bucket of cement” analogy is not too far off.
“Coach (Rob) Sanders challenged us before the game,” explained senior guard/forward Hayes Henderson. “He said it was a night for others to step up, offensively, because Bryant might not be able to give us the minutes or scoring productivity that he is known for.”
And step up they did. Senior shooting guard Alex Marinakis tied the school record with seven three-pointers on the night en route to a sizzling, game-high 23 total points, even while collecting a game-high eight rebounds.
But if there is a “next man up” award for the evening, it surely must go to senior guard Sam Crabbe, who also got into double digits with 11 points while dishing out a game-high four assists.
Assessing Crabbe’s contributions, Sanders told reporters afterwards, “I was not surprised by what Sam did tonight. He had an amazing week of practice. He is shooting the ball extremely well and he has no fear. ”
Crabbe’ offensive contributions included 4-of-5 shooting from the foul line, matching the Pioneers’ full game percentage of 80% from the charity stripe, where the Pioneers were 12-of-15, one of the team’s best free throw shooting performances of the season.
Even with the flu, Greene was productive, contributing seven points, two rebounds, two assists and a steal while seeing court time for less than half the game.
“That really was a must-win game for us,” Sanders said in opening his post-game press conference, “and we needed the effort that we got from everybody that stepped on the floor tonight. We talked in the pre-game about Bryant having the flu and not being nearly 100% (how important that was). It didn’t really show in his play, but we couldn’t get him on the floor for nearly as many minutes as he normally plays. Other people had to step up.
“Those other people couldn’t just go out on the floor and be spectators,” Sanders added, “but actually contribute to replace his scoring. Several guys really did an excellent job of that.”
The score was only tied twice in this contest, but the lead changed hands seven times, mostly in the first half before Watauga went on a run that gave them an optimistic, 27-20 lead at halftime. In a back-and-forth first half that saw the Pioneers behind 12-10 at the end of the first quarter, Marinakis and Henderson provided a lot of Watauga’s offense. But then it was a 3-ball from Henderson that put the regular tenants of Lentz-Eggers gym in front for good, launching an inspired Pioneer roster to a runaway overall performance. Henderson came off the bench to score six points, clearing the boards for three rebounds and poaching one steal.
After the Pioneers built a 21-point lead early in the 4th quarter, Sanders began giving some of his young reserves some court time.
Given the narrow loss to ACHS in Taylorsville on December 19th, the Pioneers came into Tuesday’s game with a chip on their shoulder.
“Our guys had something to prove,” Sanders told Blowing Rock News. “They wanted to come out and be better than they showed down in Taylorsville. That was particularly a very frustrating game for Bryant (Greene), so I felt bad that he was under the weather tonight and couldn’t get his minutes in.”
“Revenge was a great factor tonight,” senior power forward Alex McConnell admitted to Blowing Rock News when the dust had settled. We knew we could have beaten this team the first time, down there. It was a bad night for all of us down there, and we wanted to prove tonight that we were the better team.”
McConnell, who had a relatively quiet night in the scoring column with only two points and was credited with no rebounds, still played inspired ball by receiving the ball in the post and re-distributing it back outside.
Perhaps his inspired play came from a big decision earlier in the day when he signed a commitment to play football next year at Western Carolina. That is a decision that could loom big for Watauga opponents this weekend, because he was scheduled for a two-day recruiting trip to Conway, South Carolina on Friday and Saturday to visit Coastal Carolina University. Instead, with his WCU commitment any more campus visits are unnecessary.
“I was going to visit Coastal Carolina because they were offering me a full ride,” the big senior explained, “so I would have missed Friday and Saturday’s games. But it is huge now with the commitment because I can stay here and help my team. We have to get some big wins here.”
Sanders agreed, also describing his only real post player’s staying home for the duration of the season as “huge.”
“He has no more visits,” Sanders observed, “so we get him every Friday and Saturday night. For us, that is huge. You have seen our team. He is the only real post player we have. We have (smaller) guards that we have to play in the post and they have adapted to that very well. But when we go up against these bigger athletic teams and we don’t have Alex, then we are really undersized.”
For Watauga, Tuesday night’s game was the start of an important week of basketball after all the rescheduling in recent weeks because of school closures for “snow days.” Battling to stay in the upper half of the post-season conference tournament bracket, the Pioneers face West Caldwell at home tomorrow night (Wednesday), then travel to McDowell on Friday before hosting St. Stephens on Saturday.
For a team that is 8-5 overall, but just 2-4 in conference play, Watauga will have to win out during the second half of the regular season — and likely need some help. The Pioneers are currently in 5th in the Northwestern Conference, just a half game ahead of West Caldwell (2-5, 7-10) and a full two games behind 4-4 Alexander Central in the league standings.
- FG% — 33.3% (14-of-42)
- 3FG% — 29.4% (5-17)
- FT% — 53.8% (7-13)
- Rebounds — 26 (11 offensive)
- Turnovers — 11
- FG% — 36.4% (16-of-44)
- 3FG% — 40.0% (10-25)
- FT% — 80.0% (12-15)
- Rebounds — 34 (13 offensive)
- Turnovers — 11
- 12 — Blan Hodges
- 9 — Jem Lowrance
- 6 — Maddox Kerley
- 4 — Dawson Elder
- 3 — Jackson Barr
- 3 — Lucas Walker
- 2 — Lyndon Strickland
- 2 — Zach Wooten
- 2 — Jamison Benfield
- 23 — Alex Marinakis
- 11 — Sam Crabbe
- 7 — Bryant Greene
- 6 — Hayes Henderson
- 2 — Jackson Plyler
- 2 — Alex McConnell
- 2 — Jaidon Bond
- 1 — Jonathan McClannon