The Cougars sprinted to an 18-6 end-of-first-quarter lead and then went stone cold. However, thanks to the heroics of Ethan Lane laying in the game-winning bucket as time expired in Bayless Gymnasium, Central escaped with a 48-47 win.
“We couldn’t get anything to go and we really had no business winning this game,” Cougars coach Derek McGhee said. “The first four minutes of the game, we shot lights out and then when Ty (Barb) went out, it seemed to turn. We were trying to go to Preston (Sams) on that play on the backdoor cut and it didn’t work. Ethan ended up with the ball and made the most of it.”
Central lost Barb, arguably its best player, with 2:12 left in the second quarter when he went down with an ankle injury and didn’t return. He had eight points up to that point and Central missed 20 consecutive shots before scoring with 2:33 left in the third.
View Cheryl Gray’s 📸📸📸 from the games
Happy Valley went on a tear over the second and third quarters, outscoring the Cougars 28-9, and took its first lead with 7:38 to go in the third quarter, 24-22.
Joltin Harrison led the Cougars with 11 points and Jacob Fields threw in 10.
Alex Lunceford totaled 19 points to lead Happy Valley and Luke Roberts had 10, but three consecutive possessions with a turnover inside two minutes did in Happy Valley.
The Cougars’ stingy defense frustrated the Warriors throughout the game. Happy Valley also committed 12 turnovers and made only 9 of 16 free throws.
The Warriors’ frustration boiled over into the postgame when a Happy Valley player intentionally threw the ball at an official as he walked off the court and into the locker room. The player was quickly escorted out of the gymnasium.
“This has always been a tough place for us to play in,” McGhee said. “We’re 2-2 in the conference with a bunch of freshman and sophomores and three upperclassmen. To be in this position is a lot further along than we thought we would be.”
RANKED LADY COUGARS CRUISE
There was not as much drama on the girls’ side. Newly ranked Sullivan Central got off to a fast start and kept the foot on the gas in a 64-46 victory.
The inside-and-out game has been a thing of beauty for the Class AA No. 7 Lady Cougars this season, and keeping the balance is crucial to the offense.
“In the first half, we shot the ball too quick instead of working the ball inside and out, and I wasn’t too happy with it,” Central coach Kristi Walling said. “I told them at half that if we have a wide-open layup to shoot it — and if not, work the ball around and try to get Abbey (Crawford) a touch.”
Crawford,a Wofford signee, netted a game-high 20 points. Jaelyn West had 14, Macy McClellan 11 and Peyton Sams 10 for the Lady Cougars.
Central canned nine 3-pointers on 28 attempts and Crawford cleaned up inside, going 7-for-14 from the field and making all six of her free throws.
“Abbey is a huge part of our offense because once we get her a touch that the defense will double her and she can pass the ball to our shooters,” Walling said.
Although Central is ranked for the first time ever in the state, Walling believes her team has a lot of work to do.
“As a coach, I don’t talk to the kids about it and I’m sure the kids have probably seen it on social media,” she said. “It’s hard having that target on your back and we’re everyone’s ‘Super Bowl’ at this point.”
The Lady Cougars shot lights out in the second half, going 12-for-28 from the floor and 4-for-8 on 3-pointers.
Shalyn Whitson led Happy Valley with 15 points. Whitson was presented a commemorative game ball in honor of scoring her 1,000th point in December.