By David Rogers. December 9, 2014. BOONE, NC — For a few minutes at least, Tuesday night’s men’s basketball game between rivals Watauga and Avery County high schools was close. Then, senior Pioneer point guard Utah Jones took over and a couple of Watauga big men had their best nights of the young season.
COVER IMAGE: Guard T.J. Poulos drives to the basket. Photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News.
Look for the SLIDESHOW of images at the bottom of this article.
On paper it didn’t look like Watauga had a height advantage over Avery, but on the court was something else. Whether player mismatches or just more spring in the Pioneers’ steps, Watauga thoroughly outplayed whatever Viking five was on the court, especially in the second and fourth periods. What’s more, an aggressive, trapping defense employed by the Pioneers was successful in frustrating many Avery offensive possessions, causing turnover after turnover.
Blowing Rock News caught up with Watauga head coach Rob Sanders afterwards for an assessment of his team’s performance and the game, overall.
There comes a time when you are just going to have to ‘man-up’.
“I felt like we came out with the proper level of intensity,” Sanders observed, “and it is the same as we’ve had our first three games. However, tonight I didn’t feel like we did a very good job of controlling our emotions early on. We were a little too amped up and that resulted in a lot of missed layups and turnovers on our part.
“We told our guys going in,” recalled Sanders, “that we felt like we were the better basketball team, but if we go out there and make mistakes, this (Avery) team will fight us to the end. I felt like we settled down a little bit in the second quarter, but we struggled again in the third quarter. We couldn’t just seem to put them away until the 4th quarter. When Utah Jones hit that three-pointer, it really kind of juiced or guys up and we started to have fun again instead of pressing so much.”
Speaking of pressing, Watauga’s pressing defense forced several Viking turnovers beginning midway through the first period and beyond.
“We like to trap and scramble, at least that is what we call it,” Sanders said. “We want to put the pressure on them to find the open man. Like I said before, early on I thought we were getting lots of deflections. The opportunities were there, we were just fumbling the ball. We were trying to make a perfect pass all the way down the court and it just wasn’t there. We didn’t do a very good job of controlling energy and emotion.
“We pulled out of it,” Sanders continued, “because they basically went into a high 3-2 set, which made it very difficult for us to cover once we had a trap set. So we started throwing different defenses at them to try and get them to relax, and then we’d come back to our trap and scramble.
We like to trap and scramble.
“Against any quality opponent,” Sanders acknowledged, “there comes a time when you are just going to have to man-up. So that’s what we do. Go to a man-to-man defense and let the chips fall where they may.”
Blowing Rock News asked Coach Sanders if there were any individual players that surprised him on the night with their performances, or simply “stepped up.”
“Yes,” he said. “We had several players tonight that stepped up. Early on, Aaron Dobbins stepped up. It was his first start this season coming back from football and he had a head injury in our last game. He hit some big shots for us early on when our normal guys that score weren’t scoring.
“Then late,” continued Sanders, “about halfway through that 4th quarter, Michael Ebaugh going to the free throw line. Man, this kid struggles from the free throw line. With the clock stopped and they have a perfect opportunity (to get rebounds from free throws) and make a run, and Michael steps to the line and starts knocking them down.”
Sanders was quick to credit head football coach Ryan Habich and his staff for their work with many of the same athletes in weight training. “Coach Habich has been in the weight room with those guys pretty much year ’round. I think he gives them a week or two off here or there, then they are right back at it. That is going to pay dividends in all sports for those guys. We may be a 4A high school, but across all seasons we share a lot of athletes. The more those guys are in there getting their training done, better we are all going to be.”
Next game for Watauga is Wednesday night at Wilkes Central, in Wilkesboro, then they stay on the road with a Friday matchup at Ashe County. Next week, Watauga travels to St. Stephens in Hickory on the 16th, before hitting the road to Newland for a rematch against Avery County.
- 12 — Levi McIntosh
- 6 — Jacob Waldroop
- 5 — Jeffrey Puckett
- 5 — Luke Crowe
- 5 — Kobe Pittman
- 5 — Austin Phillips
- 5 — Dalton Tennant
- 17 — Utah Jones
- 14 — Michael Ebaugh
- 10 — T.J. Poulos
- 7 — Zack Valet
- 6 — Aaron Dobbins
- 5 — Matt Lambert
- 4 — Caleb Bryson
- 3 — Jerron Mills