Watauga boys' basketball team surprises Hickory
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
HICKORY -- Watauga's boys' basketball team waited nearly a week to play Hickory.
The wait was worth it.
Watauga upset Hickory 56-50 Saturday night in a Northwestern Conference action at Hickory's David Craft Gym after waiting since Feb. 10 to play the game. The game was originally scheduled for Feb. 11, but was moved to the day before because of anticipated inclement weather. The game was eventually scrapped from both days and moved to Saturday.
The move worked for the Pioneers. Watauga beat Hickory on the road for the first time since the beginning of the Marc Payne era. It's also the first time a Rob Sanders coached team has beaten the Red Tornadoes in Hickory
It's not the first time Sanders has coached Watauga to a win over Hickory. The Pioneers beat the Red Tornadoes 81-73 on Feb. 9, 2011.
Watauga's junior varsity, which went 24-0 during the 2011-12 season, beat Hickory on the Red Tornadoes' home court in 2012. Pioneers guard Jay Harrill played on that team and knows what it means to win at David Craft Gym.
"This is big. This is real big," Harrill said. "We won here my sophomore year. We got killed down here last year, and this was their Senior Night, so that makes this even bigger. It's a tough environment. The court's bigger and it's kind of dark in her. We stayed focused and got the job done."
Saturday proved to be right for the Pioneers, who led most of the game. Most importantly, the Pioneers led the final 4:45 of the game when a Harrill basket gave them a 44-43 lead.
Watauga took a 50-45 lead on an emphatic steal and slam-dunk by Cameron Baker. From there, the Pioneers did not score until making their final six foul shots in the final 24.7 seconds of the game.
Hickory trailed 52-50 after the Red Tornadoes' Zach Walker drained a 3-pointer with 18.1 seconds left. Watauga's Eli Gailes calmly drained both ends of a one-and-one foul shot situation, and Hickory failed to convert on the other end of the court.
That left the Pioneers in front 54-50. Harrill delivered the final dagger to the Red Tornadoes with two foul shots with 1.5 seconds left.
"The first one, I crossed the line before it went in," Harrill confessed. "It was alright because they didn't see it, but Eli stepped up and hit four of them and they were huge. He's going to hit those big free throws when we need them."
Sanders told the Pioneers that the Red Tornadoes, who have a lot of team quickness, would be trying to steal the ball while they were fouling with the idea of getting the ball and getting away with a foul.
"We knew they were going to be in a fouling situation and they had fouls to give," Sanders said. "It was important to us to know that they are quick and they are going to be going for the ball and not just foul you. It was important to take care of the basketball and to hit our free throws. We didn't hit all of them, but we hit enough of them to secure the win."
Watauga used a new starting lineup that included 6-foot-3 center Aaron Dobbins. He made his first start at Lentz-Eggers Gym against Patton on Feb. 7 when he started for Baker, who missed the game because he had his wisdom teeth pulled.
Dobbins responded that game with 20 points and 15 rebounds. His numbers were similar against Hickory when he was in the same starting lineup with Baker, Gailes, Harrill and Matt Lambert, who stands 6-foot-4. Dobbins scored 14 points and pulled down 13 rebounds, which gives him two straight double-doubles.
Dobbins scored six of the 16 points Watauga had in the first quarter, and had two stickbacks in the game. He has scored 36 points and grabbed 28 rebounds in his last two games.
"Coach has been stressing that we needed a bigger post presence in there," Dobbins said. "Getting me and Matt out there at the same time opens up the outside shooting as well."
Watauga had two other players score in double figures despite the fact that none of the Pioneers made a 3-point shot. Baker also scored 14 points, which included four points on two convincing dunks.
Harrill added 10 points and Lambert scored eight points. Harrill's final free throws lifted Watauga's totals to 12-of-15 from the line, compared to Hickory making 5-of-6.
Watauga made just six personal fouls the entire game.
Hickory made nine 3-point baskets and nine two-pointers. DeVonte Fuller, who torched the Pioneers for 48 points in an 86-80 overtime win in Boone on Jan. 17, led the Red Tornadoes with 13 points.
DeAngelo Beatty added 11 points with the help of three 3-point baskets. Zach Walker added nine points.
Watauga must wait until Sunday to see if it will make up its game with South Caldwell. The Pioneers were supposed to host South Caldwell on Friday, but it was postponed because of the recent inclement weather.
The Northwestern Conference Tournament begins Tuesday.
Watauga boys 56, Hickory 50
Watauga 56 (15-8, 6-7)
Harrill 4 2-2 10, Gailes 0 6-7 6, Dobbins 7 0-2 14, Ebaugh 2 0-0 4, Baker 6 2-2 14, Lambert 3 2-2 8, Jones 0 0-0 0, Poulos 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 12-15 56.
Hickory 50 (10-10, 9-4)
Walker 3 2-2 9, Young 3 0-0 7, D. Fuller 5 1-2 13, Abernathy 0 2-2 2, Sipe 1 0-0 3, Beatty 4 0-0 11, Bolick 1 0-0 3, Walker 1 0-0 2, Linebarger 0 0-0 0, J. Fuller 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 5-6 50.
Watauga 16 10 16 14 -- 56
Hickory 13 15 11 11 -- 50
3-point goals--Watauga, none. Hickory 9 (Beatty 3, D. Fuller 2, Walker, Young, Sipe, Bolick). Rebounds--Watauga 33 (Dobbins 13), Hickory 33 (Walker 7). Turnovers--Watauga 15, Hickory 14. Total fouls--Watauga 6, Hickory 11. Fouled out--None. Technical fouls--None.