If the plan going into a game is to play a slow-down contest, the first priority should be taking good care of the basketball.
Unaka couldn’t do that Saturday night, and North Greene shot the Unaka game plan to shreds by rolling to a 68-50 victory in the semifinals of the District 1-A basketball tournament at Jerome Woolsey Gym.
The win moves the No. 1 seed Huskies (27-4) into the Tuesday championship game against Hampton at 7 p.m. The contest will be played at North Greene as the Huskies won a coin flip with Hampton, the two teams that tied for first in the regular season race. Hampton beat Sullivan North on Saturday night in the other semifinal.
Unaka (7-19), which had knocked off University High the night prior to earn the right to take on the Huskies, tried something on the Huskies that North Greene coach Sam Tarlton had not seen before.
“That’s the first time anybody has tried to do that to us,” Tarlton said. “The main thing in that slow down situation is not to panic, to get a stop or two and get a little lead, and they’ll be forced out of that idea. That’s basically what happened.”
It became immediately apparent that Unaka was going to slow down North Greene’s high-powered offense by holding onto the basketball.
Each team swapped two turnovers apiece in the first four minutes of the game with neither scoring.
Finally, with 3:35 left, Chriss Shultz took a pass inside from teammate Kendal Loftis and dropped in a layup to break the ice. Another turnover by the Rangers (they made seven in the quarter) resulted in a Loftis layup off an assist from Cayden Foulks, then Foulks stole the ball in the back court and drove for a layup to make it 6-0 with 2:06 left. The Rangers called time out.
The game plan was about to change. When play resumed, Unaka’s Will Sexton got two baskets to break the ice for the Rangers, but the Huskies went on a scoring spree in the final 25 seconds of the quarter. Two 3-point goals by Foulks and a layup by Cody Freshour off a Foulks assist culminated an 8-0 run that had the home team up 16-4 at the horn.
Thus, despite the slow-down attempts, North Greene had chalked up 16 first period points despite having very few possessions. The Huskies hit 7-of-9 field goal attempts in the quarter.
“We like to get it and go, and everybody knows that’s how we play,” Tarlton said. “When we can get out there and score quick, it sort of demoralizes the defense.”
The good shooting continued into the second quarter as the Huskies went on a 10-0 run to pad their big lead to 26-4. Chance Campbell threaded in back-to-back 3-pointers, Loftis had a layup and Freshour scored on a runner in the lane. By halftime, North Greene was in total control at 38-13.
Unaka never laid down. Foul troubles against the Huskies thwarted the offensive run as both Loftis and Campbell picked up their fourth personal with around five minutes to go in the third stanza. With the inside presence of Loftis not available, the Huskies called on Shultz to control the tempo, and he did.
Shultz, the senior exchange student from Germany, scored 15 points to lead the winners, and 10 of those came in the second half. But he did so much more by controlling the glass at both ends and firing crisp passes to set up teammates for easy buckets.
“That’s what Chriss does,” Tarlton said. “He just makes everybody else better. He’s not selfish and he has the knack of finding the open guy. Plus he’s just a beast on the boards.”
It was 55-29 heading into the fourth quarter. The Huskies held a 61-32 lead, but Campbell fouled out and Loftis went down with an apparent ankle injury. The never-say-die Rangers went on a 15-0 run to close to 61-47, but it would be as close as they could get.
“Kendal has been bothered with that same ankle, so we will just have to wait and see (about his status for Tuesday),” Tarlton said. “Certainly we need him on Tuesday.”
In addition to the 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists logged by Shultz, the Huskies got 14 points from Loftis and 13 from Foulks. Campbell scored eight and Shane Cooter seven as the five starting seniors excelled.
Joe-Z Blamo led Unaka with 18 points, while Joseph Slagle scored 12 and Will Sexton added 11.
In a pre-game presentation, Tarlton was awarded for winning his 100th game as head mentor of the Huskies. Tarlton is in his fourth year as coach, and his teams have averaged at least 25 wins each season.
UNAKA (50): Joseph Slagle 12, Joe-Z Blamo 18, Will Sexton 11, Seigfried 2, D.Ramsey 3, L. Ramsey 4.
NORTH GREENE (68): Cayden Foulks 13, Campbell 8, Kendal Loftis 14, Chriss Shultz 15, Cooter 7, Whaley 5, Freshour 4, Malone 2.
Score by quarters:
Unaka 4 9 16 21 — 50
North Greene 16 22 17 13 — 68