Rangers best 'Landers in Watauga Valley showdown

By Matt Hill

   If you think Cameron Indoor Stadium is a wild place to play at, you should have been at Snavely Gym Friday night.
   And just like what usually happens at Duke, the visiting team found things to be very rough.
   The visiting Cloudland Highlanders had a tough go of it, as they lost to the Unaka Rangers 78-54 in front of a capacity crowd.
   First place was on the line in the Watauga Valley Conference, and Cloudland came in entering territory that hasn't been charted in almost 20 years.
   "This is the biggest atmosphere we've ever played in," Cloudland head coach Ned Smith said.
   Unaka came out with a lot of intensity, and it led to a great night for the home team. The Rangers never trailed after Cloudland's Kyle Jones made the first basket of the game.
   "The crowd does a lot for that," Unaka superstar Aaron Dugger said. "Our students and our community really back us, and get us ready to play."
   Dugger was definitely ready to play on this night.
   Unaka was ahead 12-9 after the first quarter, but the second stanza was all Unaka and a Dugger extravaganza. Dugger scored 17 points in the second quarter, and the Rangers were ahead 40-27 going into the locker room.
   Dugger finished the night with 38.
   "I had a bad night against University High," Dugger said. "I didn't shoot good at all, and I was just determined to have a good night."
   Cloudland got with nine points at one time in the second half, but couldn't get any closer.
   Led by sharp-shooting from Dugger and Dustin Collins, Unaka was able to get the lead back into double digits. It stayed there the rest of the night.
   "We missed five or six lay-ups, and six or seven easy jump shots that we normally put down," Smith said. "It's hard to play here. I think that was our biggest problem. We never did overcome it."
   Collins scored 17 on the night to go along with Dugger's big total, but
   Unaka head coach Donald Ensor thought it was a total team effort.
   "I thought we all for the most part played well," Ensor said. "We had our moments. We got lost on the defensive end here and there, but for the most part we played pretty well."
   Unaka didn't have many weakness on this night, but Ensor thought the foul shooting could have been better. Unaka shot 17-of-28 from the charity stripe.
   "We didn't shoot the ball well from the free-throw line as a team tonight," Ensor said. "I don't know what the reason was, but we just didn't shoot it well."
   Cloudland played with a lot of intensity, but never really mustered a challenge in this one.
   Dugger knew coming in that the Landers would take their best shot at Unaka.
   "They were undefeated (in conference) and playing good ball all season," Dugger said. "We knew we had to play or they would come in here and take it. We knew we had to be fired up because the conference was on the line.
   Ensor knew the 'Landers had the potential to beat Unaka, so he made sure his team was ready to play.
   "We knew they were good," Ensor said. '"Ned's doing an outstanding job with them. We just came out ready to play, too. I thought it was two good basketball teams going at each other."
   A couple of bright spots for the Highlanders were Kyle Jones and Caleb Denton. Jones poured in 21, while Denton netted 11.
   "Caleb Denton and Kyle Jones both shot well tonight," Smith said. "They settled down there and played a little bit."
   The 'Landers and the Rangers will go at it in another Watauga Valley Conference showdown in two weeks.
   Smith is hoping for a different result next time around.
   "I don't know if we can make 24 points or not, but we're going to keep our heads up, go back to the gym and work on it.
   Ensor has his mind on the next opponent, and is not thinking about the rematch.
   "We play Monday," Ensor said. "We've got Clinch."