By Steve Behr
Watauga boys basketball coach Rob Sanders had seen it before. His Pioneers, playing poorly, had fallen behind by eight points to West Stokes after holding a lead in the Watauga Classic first-round game.
The Pioneers had done the same thing to Ashe County the previous week and ended up losing the game. But the Pioneers, after being chewed out by Sanders during a timeout, staged a furious rally and beat West Stokes 55-52 Thursday night.
Sanders implemented some new rules for the Pioneers, mostly dealing with taking bad shots. He hoped it would keep the Pioneers within the framework of their offense instead of freelancing moves that often turned into mistakes.
“We had a lot of guys playing timid,” Sanders said. “They were worried about making mistakes because they were going to get yanked out of the game. I told them that was not my intention whatsoever. You still have to play basketball. I just want them to do it together.”
Photo by Rob Moore
However, at times the Pioneers would pass the ball around the perimeter and then turn the ball over. It was particularly rough in the fourth quarter that saw the Pioneers fall behind by eight points.
“We told them going into the game that the trick is, ‘Can you play with discipline and yet play with the same type of intensity and passion that you’ve been playing with?’ We told them at halftime that we were pleased and that they were being very patient on offense and they weren’t forcing shots or settling for shots.
Defensively, I felt we were on our heels.”
Watauga (6-4) fell behind 48-40 with 2:50 left after the Wildcats (9-4) went on an 8-0 run sparked by two 3-pointers from J.D. Mabe and a bucket from Tyler Barr. Watauga missed its first five shots of the fourth quarter and hit just one of eight from the field until Zach Greene hit a old-fashoined three-point play.
Then Sanders called a timeout and let the Pioneers, and everybody else in Lentz-Eggers Gym, that the Pioneers could either fold or make a comeback.
“We weren’t running the offense,” Sanders said. “We were playing one against five. We weren’t changing sides of the floor and basically we weren’t making the other team play any defense at all.”
They chose the latter. Greene got the Pioneers rolling with his three-point play.
Mabe answered with a basket, giving the Wildcats a 50-43 lead with 1:53 left. However, Watauga’s defense took over by not allowing a West Stokes basket until there was 10.7 seconds left in the game.
Jeff Newell struck first with a steal that ended up being a Chad Eppley basket with 1:33 left. David Isaacs struck next with a steal that ended up being an Eppley 3-point bucket, pulling Watauga to 50-48.
Greene, who led all scorers with 15 points, gave the Pioneers a 51-50 lead with a 3-pointer with 34 seconds left.
On Watauga’s next possession, Ian Dale canned two foul shots to lift the Pioneers to a 53-50 lead. After West Stokes pulled to within 53-52, Dale hit two more free throws with 7.5 seconds left in the game to ice the win.
Watauga boys 55, West Stokes 52
West Stokes (9-4)
Southern 3 0-0 6, Hall 2 5-5 10, B. Mabe 1 0-0 2, Newell 1 1-2 3, Barr 2 0-0 4, Je. Fansher 0 0-0 0, J. Mabe 5 0-0 13, Holderfield 3 0-0 6, Boyles 2 0-0 4, Eggers 0 0-0 0. Jo. Fansher 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 10-11 52.
Fancher 1 0-0 2, Watson 1 0-0 2, Greene 4 5-5 15, Isaacs 2 0-1 5, Chiarolanzio 1 0-0 2, Newell 0 2-2 2, Eppley 5 0-1 11, Herndon 2 0-0 4, Dale 4 4-4 12, Steury 0 0-0 0, Moyer 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 11-14 55.
West Stokes 7 16 13 16 — 52
Watauga 16 9 11 19 — 55
3-point goals—West Stokes 4 (J. Mabe 3, Hall), Watauga 4 (Greene 2, Isaacs, Eppley). Turnovers–West Stokes 21, Watauga 18. Total fouls—West Stokes 13, Watauga 14. Fouled out—None. Technical fouls—None.