Unaka comes up short vs. Cougars

By Tim Chambers

   BLOUNTVILLE--Unaka fought hard against the much taller Sullivan Central Cougars Monday night, but in the end came up short, 56-49, after going cold in the final two minutes.
   "We had every opportunity in the world in the fourth quarter, but couldn't knock down a shot in the last two minutes," said Unaka head coach Donald Ensor. "We played hard on the defensive side and got the stops, but failed to convert."
   The first quarter was fast paced, with both teams pushing the ball up and down the floor.
   Derek Cline gave Unaka a 2-0 lead but Central responded with two quick hoops to go up 4-2. Tyler McCann tried to keep the Rangers close with a nice layin, but Central was pounding the ball inside, with Zack Frye doing most of the damage.
   Meanwhile, Unaka heated up behind the three-point shooting of McCann and Cody Collins to take a 15-14 lead at the 2:00 mark.
   Collins connected on a runner to give Unaka a 17-16 lead, but Joe Brown would go downtown from 30 feet at the buzzer, giving the Cougars a 19-17 advantage.
   After a Dunford free throw, Rusty Holtsclaw answered with a bankshot, but the Cougars got hot as Tyler Harvey connected for three, followed by a two from Crain to up the lead to six.
   Josh Jones responded with a jumper while McCann added a three-point play to cut the lead to three. A nice drive and bucket from Mike Walsh helped Unaka stay within five at the half at 39-34.
   Central extended the lead to 43-34 before two Chase Reeves free throws cut the lead to 43-36. After attempting one shot from the field and being saddled with foul trouble in the first half, Rusty Chambers sparked the Ranger offense with six points in the quarter, including a kiss off the glass in the closing seconds to cut the lead to 45-44 heading into the last quarter.
   Unaka's offense went south in the fourth quarter, scoring only five points in the period. After a bucket from Jones to cut the lead back at one, Central would go up by seven at 53-46.
   Chambers responded with a long three to cut the lead to four at 53-49. Unaka came up empty on its next four possessions, misfiring on three outside shots while having one rejected.
   Central held the ball the final 1:21 as Unaka refused to foul until the 10-second mark, giving the Cougars a hard-fought, seven-point margin.
   Chambers and McCann, with nine each, led the Rangers, while Collins added eight.
   Unaka will be at home tonight against the Happy Valley Warriors, pitting the champions of the Watauga Valley against the Watauga Conference co-champs.