Watauga boys slip past Cougars 57-55 in OT
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Most of, but not all of the boys' basketball games played
between Alexander Central and Watauga, are close.
Rarely are they boring.
Watauga's 57-55 overtime victory over the Cougars in the first round of the state 4-A playoffs kept the crowd at Lentz-Eggers Gym at the edges of their seats -- at least those few who were sitting down in the game's final 10 seconds -- until Watauga's Aaron Dobbins rebounded a Logan Grant free throw with 3.3 seconds left in the overtime.
That rebound sealed the game and allowed the Pioneers to advance to the second round of the playoffs. On Wednesday, Watauga hosts McDowell, who beat Jamestown Ragsdale 111-104 that was also played on Monday.
The teams put on a finish that was worthy of being called a playoff game. Watauga point guard Eli Gailes gave the Pioneers a 57-54 lead by calmly sinking two foul shots with 4.9 seconds left.
They were the only free throws Gailes attempted all game.
Watauga's defense then fouled Grant before he could take a potential game-tying 3-point shot. Grant made his first free throw to pull Alexander Central to 57-55. Grant did as Alexander Central coach Ed Wills instructed and missed the second chance to give the Cougars a chance at an offensive rebound and game-tying stick back.
"It's stuff you work on, but you don't work on it enough," Wills said. "They're excited, so I didn't want to get a crazy violation and have something bad happen, but we fought, we just didn't score quickly enough."
Dobbins made sure that would not happen. He was able to grab the rebound, get the ball to Matt Lambert, who got the ball down the court to Cam Baker. He dunked the ball in celebration well after the final buzzer had sounded.
Watauga coach Rob Sanders said he saw Wills showing Grant how to miss the second foul shot and give his teammates a chance at a rebound. Dobbins' rebound was Watauga's 24th of the game, while Alexander Central finished with 38.
"You could even see Ed instructing them how to miss," Sanders said. "Obviously it was important for us to get the rebound in that situation. That was probably the thing we did the poorest job all night was rebound the basketball. We went to our zone trying to get ourselves in a better position to rebound because their second and third shot attempts were the ones going in. It wasn't their first attempts."
It looked like Watauga (18-9) was going to win the game in regulation time after taking a 45-42 lead. The Pioneers overcame a 40-35 deficit by holding Alexander Central (14-12) to just two points -- an Ethan Simmons basket -- with 4:16 left in the game.
Dobbins made one foul shots with 3.5 seconds left to put the Pioneers in front 45-42, but after an Alexander Central rebound and timeout, Deion Wall drained a 33-foot 3-point basket just before the buzzer that tied the game 45-45.
Wall split two Watauga defenders before taking his shot just before the buzzer sounded.
"Obviously there was some good fortune," Wills said. "It's not a shot that you practice and count on making. I thought it gave us some momentum, but we started the overtime and missed an assignment and they get an open shot. That's can't happen. You have to take that momentum and do something with it and we didn't do that."
Sanders said the Pioneers were hesitant to foul Wall, despite the fact they had a foul to commit before sending him to the line, because they were concerned that he would be fouled in the act of shooting and be awarded three free throws.
"It was a little disappointing because we had a foul to give," Sanders said. "That was our strategy; let them inbound the basketball and let them have a couple of dribbles and foul them. Hopefully, what you would end up with is a three-quarter court situation and they're going to have to run a play they have run in and they're not going to have much time to shoot."
Watauga, seeded No. 8 in the West Regional, could not match the intensity it had when the Pioneers beat Alexander Central 61-43 in Boone on Dec. 18. The Pioneers led 14-12 at the end of the first quarter, but trailed 26-23 at halftime after scoring just two baskets in the final 6:39 of the second quarter.
The Pioneers started to come to life early in the fourth quarter when Baker was hit hard in the side of the head while playing defense. No foul was called, and Baker responded by blocking the Cougars' next two shots.
He then drained a 3-point shot with 6:25 left to pull the Pioneer to within 40-38.
"He's one of the few players we have that really knows how to let their emotions fuel them instead of control them," Sanders said of Baker. "Usually when your emotions are in control, then bad things happen. When you're using it as a fuel to play harder and to get that rebound and get that blocked shot, it can be a positive thing and that's what he did tonight."
Only five Pioneers reached the scoring column. Jay Harrill led all scorers with 22 points, while Baker scored 16 and Dobbins scored 13.
Gailes had four points and Lambert had two.
Wall, who hit four 3-point shots, finished with 14 points for the Cougars. Zack Starnes also scored 14 points, while Simmons scored 10.
In other playoff games involving Northwestern Conference teams, North Forsyth beat Patton 98-88, Gastonia Ashbrook beat St. Stephens 52-51, Freedom beat West Rowan 93-64, and Hickory beat Fred T. Foard 50-47.
On Wednesday, Hickory plays at Freedom in their third NWC showdown. Freedom won the first two during the regular season.
In boys' playoff game played in the 1-A Western Region, Avery crushed Murphy 77-38. Avery hosts Cherokee on Wednesday.
McDowell girls 67, Watauga 44
MARION -- Watauga's girls' basketball team trailed 40-35 at halftime, but could not keep up with the No. 1-seeded Titans in the second half and fell in the first round of the state 4-A playoffs Monday.
McDowell, which is also ranked No. 1 by the web site ncpreps.com, hosts Northwest Guilford in the first round of the playoffs. The Titans took a 12-3 lead on the Pioneers, but Watauga managed to cut the lead to five by halftime.
In another girls' playoff games, Monroe Parkwood beat Ashe 62-28 in the first round of the state 2-A playoffs.
Hickory, ranked second in 3-A by ncpreps.com and the No. 1 seed in the Western Region, beat West Henderson 80-35 in the first round of the playoffs. Crest beat St. Stephens 68-48, Southwest Randolph beat Patton 70-66, and Freedom beat North Buncombe 70-58.
On Wednesday, Hickory Ridge plays at Hickory, Freedom plays at Ledford.
Watauga boys 57, Alexander Central 55
Alexander Central 55 (14-12)
Wall 5 0-0 14, Grant 1 3-4 5, Miller 0 2-2 2, Simmons 5 0-2 10, Watts 1 0-0 3, Starnes 7 0-0 14, Miller 2 0-0 5, Lingle 1 0-0 2, D. Stikeleather 0 0-0 0, Bumgarner 0 0-0 0, Wicker 0 0-0 0, Smalls 0 0-0 0, M. Stikeleather 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 5-10 55.
Watauga 57 (18-9)
Harrill 8 4-5 22, Gailes 1 2-2 5, Dobbins 5 3-4 13, Baker 6 1-3 16, Lambert 1 0-0 2, Ebaugh 0 0-0 0, Jones 0- 0-0 0, Poulos 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 10-14 57.
Alexander Central 12 10 13 5 10 -- 55
Watauga 14 9 12 10 12 -- 57
3-point goals--Alex Central 6 (Wall 4, Miller, Watts), Watauga 5 (Baker 3, Harrill 2). Rebounds-- Alex Central 38 (Starnes 9), Watauga 24 (Dobbins, Baker 8). Turnovers--Alex Central 14, Watauga 11. Total fouls--Alex Central 15, Watauga 11. Fouled out--None. Technical fouls--None.