Hickory escapes with overtime victory
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Hickory’s Josh Linebarger is evidence of that. The Red Tornadoes’ guard hit a basket on a stickback with 7.1 seconds left in overtime, and Hickory held off Watauga to take a 74-72 victory at Lentz-Eggers Gym.
Linebarger was not close to being Hickory’s top scorer. Those honors went to Darius Malbon, who hit six 3-pointers and finished with 25 points.
In fact, the game-winner was Linebarger’s only basket from the field. He made 2 of 4 foul shots and finished with four points.
Watauga coach Rob Sanders was disappointed in the loss, but also encouraged that his Pioneers could keep up with what is traditionally the top program in the Northwestern Conference. The Pioneers fell behind by 11 in the second quarter, but eventually went into halftime tied.
“If there was any scenario where we could come out of here without and win and send a message to the league and send a message to ourselves that we can play with anybody, that was it,” Sanders said. “If we can take them to overtime and lose by two, and have every opportunity really to win the game — we had an opportunity to win at the end of regulation and we had a good shot right there at the end of overtime. We didn’t hit them.”
Watauga was in this situation two years ago, also at Lentz-Eggers Gym. An experienced Watauga team surprised Hickory 81-73, which snapped the Red Tornadoes’ 21-game NWC winning streak.
Watauga (5-3, 0-1 NWC) had its share of chances to knock off the Tornadoes (10-2, 1-0) Friday. Hickory was missing two of its top players, and cooled off in the second quarter after making five 3-point baskets in the first quarter. Hickory led by as many as 30-19 in the second quarter, but Watauga managed to take a 36-34 lead with a 15-4 run late in the period.
Watauga settled for a 36-36 halftime tie.
“We tried to stress to our guys that we knew we could play with Hickory,” Sanders said. “It was a matter of whether or not the players actually believed it. We tried to convince them that you have to come out of the locker room knowing that you could play with this team. Otherwise, you’re going to find yourselves in a hole.”
Hickory coach Lavell Hall returned to Watauga for the first time since leaving as the team’s athletic director in 2009. It was the first time Hall, who took over the Hickory program this season, had coached in Watauga’s new gym.
Hall said missing 6-foot-7 Gavin Huffman and 6-4 forward C.J. Wardrick — both starters — hurt the Red Tornadoes when it came to a lack of depth. Both missed the game because they had the flu.
“There were times when we got the ball where we needed to and finished the play,” Hall said. “And then, not having those kids with us tonight, that’s 10 fouls. When we got a couple of kids with two fouls in the first half, we had to play a lot of people in different spots that they normally play just to keep kids from getting that third foul.”
Hickory had a chance to close the game out with a win in regulation after taking a 64-58 lead with two minutes left in the game. Watauga surprised Hickory by going on a 7-0 run keyed by a 3-point basket by Ben Margolis with 55.7 left, and a Margolis stickback with 38 seconds left that put the Pioneers in front 65-64.
Linebarger tied the game with a foul shot with 35.4 seconds to go giving Watauga plenty of time to take the lead. The Pioneers ended up turning the ball over on one possession, had a shot blocked on another and then did not get a shot off before the buzzer went off to end regulation.
Hickory had to rally past Watauga in the overtime after the Pioneers took a 70-65 lead. Watauga failed to score on four straight possessions, three because of turning the ball over, which allowed Hickory to take a 72-70 lead with 46.7 seconds left.
DeWayne Mackey scored on a drive to tie the game, but after a jump ball with 14.1 seconds left, Linebarger grabbed an offensive rebound and gave the Red Tornadoes a 74-72 lead. Margolis’ 3-point attempt with two seconds left was short, and Hickory held on.
Watauga used a balanced offense to keep pace with the Red Tornadoes. Mackey finished with 17 points, while Howser and Allen Koppenhaver finished 13 each. Cam Baker had 12 points and Margolis finished with seven.
Malbon made six of Hickory’s 12 3-point goals. Rahim Connelly made four others and finished with 15 points. Zach Jarrett added two 3-point baskets with eight foul shots in 14 attempts to finish with 14 points.
Hickory benefitted by making 24-of-36 shots from the free throw line. Watauga was 13-of-14.
Watauga’s next six games are on the road, including a trip to Wilkes Central on Tuesday, and a trip to Ashe on Wednesday.
Hickory 74, Watauga 72 (OT)
Hickory (10-2, 1-0)
J. Linebarger 1 2-4 4, Jarrett 2 8-14 14, Beaty 0 4-4 4, Connelly 5 1-2 15, Fuller 3 3-4 9, Washington 0 1-2 1, Malbon 8 3-3 25, M. Linebarger 0 2-2 2, Creech 0 0-0 0, Abernathy 0 0-1 0. Totals 19 24-36 74.
Watauga (5-3, 0-1)
Mackey 6 2-2 17, Howser 5 2-2 13, Koppenhaver 3 7-7 13, Baker 5 2-2 12, Sturgill 1 0-0 2, Gailes 1 0-0 2, Lambert 3 0-0 6, Steury 0 0-0 0. Totals 34 13-14 72.
Hickory 24 12 10 19 9 — 74
Watauga 14 22 12 17 7 — 72
3-point goals—Hickory 12 (Malbon 6, Connelly 4, Jarrett 2), Watauga 5 (Mackey 3, Margolis, Howser). Rebounds—Hickory 23 (Jarrett 6), Watauga 39 (Margolis, Baker 6). Turnovers—Hickory 17, Watauga 16. Total fouls—Hickory 20, Watauga 22. Fouled out—Howser. Technical fouls—None.