'Clones declaw Cougars, 67-57

By Allen LaMountain

   A thunderous dunk at the buzzer by Vince Redd served as an exclamation point to the Cyclones mastery over the Sullivan Central Cougars. With Redd garnering a game-high 22 points, Elizabethton turned a halftime deficit into a 10-point victory on Friday night at Treadway gym.
   "We were lazy in the first half," commented Redd in the aftermath of his teams' big victory. "Coach (Hardin) chewed us out and we came out hard as we could in the second half."
   EHS' 67-57 win kept the Cyclones unbeaten in Watauga Conference play at 5-0 (11-2 overall) and showed that there is still some distance to be made up by the Cougars in their attempt to close the gap between them.
   'Betsy has now won seven straight over Central - including a 14-point win over the Cougars in the Highlands Tournament championship contest - dating back to last season when the Cyclones won all five meeting between the two clubs.
   "We came out very tentative, maybe a little scared," said Cougars head coach Tony Vaughn. "We have to step up to the challenge, and after the first quarter I think we did that. EHS just has so many weapons."
   Central scored just five first quarter points as it looked like a Betsy blowout was in the making as EHS led 15-5 going into the second period. After a three-point play by Betsy senior forward Jordan Lambert extended the Cyclones to an 18-5 advantage, the Cougars began to whittle away at the lead.
   John LeSueur and Matt Dunford led the Central comeback with LeSueur canning two free throws in a 7-3 run that saw the Cougars cut the EHS lead to 21-16 at the 3:39 mark of the second period.
   LeSueur finished with 21 points, while Dunford chipped in with 16 for the Cougars while B.J. Miller tallied 17 points in support of Redd's efforts.
   After a bucket by Miller for EHS, both LeSueur and Dunford nailed deuces to make it a 23-20 ballgame, and moments later Tyler Harvey came off the bench and dropped in a trey that knotted things at 23-23.
   With less than a minute remaining in the first half, Central's Phillip Ennis converted a three-point play, but Lambert canned two free throws to make it a 26-25 game at the break.
   "You have to give Central a lot of credit to be ahead at the half," said Cyclones' head coach Tony Hardin. "It was a big challenge for them, and we were a little disappointed that we had a let down in the second quarter. But part of being a championship caliber team is the ability to re-focus your efforts."
   The Cougars out-scored the Cyclones 21-10 in the second period to take the one-point lead to give Central a much-needed shot of confidence. It was short-lived however, as the Cyclones did re-focus their effort and began to take the initiative.
   Redd and Lambert each hit buckets to open the third stanza and Miller capped the seven-point Betsy run with a trey that gave EHS a 32-26 lead in the early minutes of the second half.
   A Redd bucket moments later extended the Betsy lead to 34-26 and the run to nine, but a Dunford bucket and a three-pointer from LeSueur ended the Betsy run and made it a 34-31 contest.
   Minutes later, Miller responded with another triple and Walter Brown hit both ends of a one-and-one opportunity to put the Cyclones back in the drivers seat with a 44-34 lead. The third period ended with EHS in command at 49-41, and that's when Redd took matters into his considerably sized hands.
   Redd dropped in two inside buckets with his counterpart Dunford on the Central bench with a leg contusion as Betsy extended it's lead to 53-41 before a short Central run narrowed the gap a bit.
   LeSueur hit one-of-two from the charity stripe and Zach Frye scored inside to make it a 53-44 game and moments later Dunford's replacement Ennis hit two-of-two free throws to cut the Betsy lead to 53-46 with 5:02 remaining.
   "Dunford injured his leg late in the third period," said Vaughn. "He tried to walk it off, but we had to sit him for awhile. That hurt us because Matt has the size and weight to push inside with Redd."
   LeSueur dropped in a trey after a bucket by Miller and a free throw by Redd, and after a one-of-two effort from the charity stripe by Brown, EHS junior guard Lester Bailey knocked down a pair of free throws to give the Cyclones a 59-49 lead.
   With just three minutes remaining Dunford was able to return to the court and that paid immediate dividends as he was able to get a foul call against Betsy's Brad Holtsclaw that fouled him out of the game.
   "Brad Holtsclaw played his best game of the year by far tonight," said Hardin. "Guys like Charles Peters, (Chris) Vaughn and Holtsclaw have been giving us some solid minutes off the bench. Holtsclaw, I thought, played the way he is capable of playing, with tough defense and rebounding."
   In addition to that Holtsclaw also saved some fouls from being called on Redd as well.
   "It's important for the team that I stay out of foul trouble," Redd commented. "The team needs my presence in the middle."
   A pair of free throws by Frye made it a 59-51 game, but EHS answered with a bucket by Brown and held off the Cougars down the stretch until with time winding down Miller found Redd wide open in the Cyclones end of the court and fed him with a cross-court pass. Redd took the pass, dribbled into the lane and threw down a two-handed tomahawk jam as the buzzer sounded.
   When asked if he felt that EHS was sending Central a message, Redd explained: "I just try to go out and play hard. We want to try to win all our conference games, but I don't know if we sent any message."
   Junior Varsity
   EHS 68
   Sullivan Central 61
   After a 48-25 whipping at the hands of the JV Cougars in the championship game of the Highlands Classic in December, the JV Cyclones felt like they had something to prove on Friday night.
   Mission accomplished, as 'Betsy played what coach Richard VanHuss called "our most complete game of the season" in a 68-61 win.
   Derek Wilson had a game-high 20 points, while Bradley Brown -- who played tentatively at the Highlands -- chipped in with a dozen points for EHS.
   "We have been talking about that game as a team since then," said VanHuss, who praised his team's desire and hustle. "They embarrassed us out there and these guys remembered. The key was in breaking their press defense."
   EHS trailed 25-23 at the break, but 'Betsy battled back to open a 50-45 lead after three quarters were in the books. Elizabethton led 51-47 in the early moments of the fourth quarter when Central went on a six-point run that gave the JV Cougars a 53-51 lead.
   After a missed free throw by Charles Peters, Wilson gobbled up the rebound and his putback shot evened things at 53-53.
   Wilson dropped in another deuce moments later and Jeremy Robinson finished off a 10-point Cyclone run with a bucket to give EHS a 61-53 lead and Betsy never trailed again.
   "Derek and J-Rob hit some big shots tonight," VanHuss stated. "I have never been around a group of JV players that plays any harder than these guys. I'm awfully proud of them right now."