Rangers drop UH

By Matt Hill

   It was a rough first half for Unaka against the University High Jr. Bucs Tuesday night, but the Rangers' tune changed in the second half quicker than it took JO99.3 to go to a new music format.
   Unaka rallied from a halftime deficit to defeat University High 33-30 in the semifinals of the District 1-A Boys Tournament at Steve Lacy Fieldhouse.
   "We settled down a little bit in the second half," Unaka head coach Donald Ensor said. "We started playing a little better. We concentrated on blocking out and defending, and that led over into our offensive game."
   It was an offense that produced 41 points in the second half, but things didn't start out very smoothly for the Rangers.
   University High led 13-10 after the first quarter, but the Rangers rallied back and took the lead when Ben Cole completed a three-point play to put Unaka on top 22-19 with 5:50 to go in the first half.
   But from that point on until the final moments of the second quarter, it was all Jermaine Lomans. He sparked a 10-0 University High run to give the Junior Bucs a 29-22 cushion with 2:24 left in the second.
   Unaka did close the half strong to cut the Junior Buccaneer lead down to 33-30 at the intermission.
   The second half was all Unaka. The Rangers took big post player Brandon Bradley out of the game offensively, and Unaka started making their shots.
   Dustin Collins came up big in the third quarter, as he scored 10 of his game-high 25 in the frame. His field goal with 2:13 to go put the Rangers up 44-42, and they never relinquished the lead after that.
   "We had to keep our composure at halftime," Collins said. "We knew what we had to do, and we came out and executed."
   The Rangers kept pulling away as the game went on. Unaka went ahead 56-46 with five minutes to go, and the Junior Bucs could never get any closer than eight points the rest of the way.
   "I thought we played pretty well," Ensor said. "You've got to credit coach (Tony) Gordon and University High, they brought it, too. I thought it was two teams that really went at each other. We got refocused in the second half, were able to take the lead and kind of build on it."
   Aaron Dugger scored 17 of his 22 in the second half, while Cole finished the night with 14.
   But Collins was the star of this game, as he finished with five three-pointers.
   "Dustin came ready to play," Ensor said. "He's capable of that."
   Lomans and Bradley both had 17 to top University High.
   Coach Gordon thought the second half was just too much Unaka.
   "We knew they were going to make a run to start the second half," Gordon said. "They're a good team, and they play off their runs. Our goal coming out was to match their intensity. We did it for a short stretch there, but then we got in a rut of shooting jump shots. When we do that we don't rebound out of it. That puts a lot of pressure on us offensively."
   Unaka will play Cloudland Friday night for the District 1-A Championship, and Ensor feels fortunate to be there after playing a team he feels is extremely talented.
   "Top to bottom our league is pretty dang tough," Ensor said. "They have athletes and there dang well-coached. I respect Coach Gordon. He does an outstanding job, and he always has them ready to play at tournament time."