Rangers spurt past Bulldogs

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF

   Basketball is not like an Olympic figure-skating competition. Only one team can win.
   That still didn't stop Aaron Dugger and Rusty Chambers from putting on a gold medal performance Friday night.
   Dugger poured in 39 points, and Chambers tallied 17 rebounds to lead the Unaka Rangers to a 68-56 victory over the Hampton Bulldogs at VanHuss-White Gym.
   Dugger did a lot of his damage from the foul line. He hit 19-of-his 21 free-throw attempts.
   "Coach Ensor, our staff, and my teammates really have a lot of confidence in me at the line," Dugger said. "We really stress that in practice, and we really work at it. And it pays off."
   Chambers, who finished the game with 11 points, was a presence inside all night long.
   "We've been concentrating on crashing the boards," Chambers said. "All he was talking about over the week was how we're going to win the game by crashing the boards, and I feel like we came in here and did a good job of that tonight."
   Hampton head coach Jerry White thought Chambers was big for the Rangers.
   "He played pretty good for them, White said. "He really did."
   The third quarter was probably the difference in this contest. Hampton hit four three-pointers in the second quarter to outscore the Rangers 18-14 in the period, which tied the game at 27-27 going into the locker room.
   But in the third quarter, Unaka started hitting on all cylinders. The Rangers started the period on a 10-2 run to pull ahead 37-29 with 3:34 left to play in the stanza.
   Hampton could only hit three shots in the period, and Unaka led 44-34 going into the final quarter.
   Unaka used a Hampton technical early in the fourth to build a commanding 52-37 advantage.
   "Third quarter and early fourth quarter we played pitiful, and they played good," White said. "They hit some threes there and got the lead. We didn't do a good job in that stretch."
   Unaka seemed to be in control with about five minutes to go, but some extra-curricular activities after a foul got the Rangers a technical of their own. Jeremy Hall made all four free-throws to cut Unaka's lead down to 54-42.
   A Hall bucket on Hampton's next possession made it a 54-44 Unaka advantage, and the Bulldogs continued to claw back into it. By the two-minute mark, Hampton was only tailing 54-49.
   Unaka was having a hard time handling Hampton's fierce defense, as the Bulldogs were giving Dugger and the Rangers fits.
   "They were trapping us, and we did get conservative," Dugger said. "Instead of attacking, we tired to run some time off the clock, and work to get on the foul line and get some foul shots."
   The plan eventually worked, as Dugger just kept getting to the foul line late in the contest.
   Dugger hit 12 foul shots in the final period, including several down the stretch. Hampton couldn't cut the deficit past five points, and Unaka's lead was back up in double digits at 64-53 when Dugger canned two free-throws with 17.4 seconds left.
   Josh Blevins also came up big for Unaka in the late stages, as he scored all six of his points in the final period.
   "They just outplayed us," White said. "Plain and simple."
   Unaka head coach Donald Ensor was a little concerned about the final few minutes, but hopes to have things like that fixed before the District 1-A tournament starts this week.
   "We just made some mental errors," Ensor said. "Stuff that's very fixable. We just have to keep our composure and play. We're going to have a tough game Tuesday at Milligan. I don't know who it's going to be yet, but our district tournament is going to be very tough.
   Hampton, the No. 2 seed going into Monday's District 1-AA tournament, did an outstanding job defending a very explosive player. Unaka's Ben Cole, usually a lock to be a double-figure scorer, did not score a single point in this contest.
   Usually that means a win for the opponent, but White thought it should have been a closer game considering that fact.
   "It should have been a lot closer than that holding him scoreless," White said. "But he got in a little foul trouble there."
   It was a balanced scoring effort for the Bulldogs. Hall and Zack Ensor topped Hampton with 13, while Ryan Deskins scored 11.
   Coach Ensor, whose team will be the top-seed in the District 1-A Tournament, thinks his squad can improve on Friday night's performance.
   "I don't think we're exactly where we need to be," Ensor said. "I don't think this team is playing at its full potential. Which in one way can be very good. I really expect them to zero in when we get to Milligan, and be focused, and play well."
   Hampton will play Sullivan North in its opening-round game. By that time, the Bulldogs will probably have forgotten about this loss.
   "You forget these now," White said. "These are all practice games. This is like going to scrimmage. That's the way you have to look at it. You start a whole new season. Everybody is zero and zero again."