The Henry County Wildcats hosted the Eminence Warriors on Dec. 10 in round one of the county rivalry and came away with an 81-56 victory.
The game got off to a flying start as both teams attacked the basket aggressively. Austin Young scored the first basket of the game on a 12-footer before Shelby Armstrong scored 30 seconds later on a put back. The teams traded baskets until Landon New broke a 6-6 tie when he scored on a goaltending call to make it 8-6 with 5:18 left in the opening period.
On the ensuing inbounds play Henry County set up their full court press but before the ball could be inbounded a technical foul was called on the Warriors’ Jalen Dixie.
Young stepped to the line and gave Henry County a four-point lead by sinking both free throws.
But Mitchell Golden responded for the Warriors just five seconds later with an inside basket to make it 10-8.
After a Chase Howard layup made it 12-8, Dixie brought the ball down court and was called for an offensive foul as he tried to drive around two Henry County defenders. Dixie was hit with a second technical foul and was ejected from the game with 4:24 left in the first period. The Warriors’ bench was then assessed a technical foul and Henry County’s Landon New stepped to the line and hit three of four free throws to give Henry County a 15-8 lead.
“After it happened we were shell-shocked – I was shell-shocked,” EHS Coach Chris Nethery said. “We were down 10 almost immediately after it happened. We used three timeouts almost immediately to try to stem it.”
The Wildcats’ Landon New and Dakota Estes then went on a long-range shooting spree that threatened to blow the game open as the Warriors struggled to adjust to playing without Dixie, their leading scorer and main ball-handler.
New hit two 3-pointers and Estes one in an 18-6 run that started with 3:54 left in the quarter. DeMarcus Bailey hit a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left in the quarter to give the Warriors a boost heading into the second quarter.
The Warriors began to adjust in the second quarter as they attacked the Henry County defense with drives to the basket and strong inside play from Golden.
But the Wildcats kept pace and maintained a 17-19-point lead until two free throws by Armstrong with 1:59 left began a 9-2 run by the Warriors to close out the half and cut the lead to 12 at 49-37. Armstrong scored all but two of the Warriors’ points from the free throw line in the run as he was fouled repeatedly while driving to the basket.
Eminence continued to claw their way back into the game to start the third period. Young hit one of two free throws to start the scoring in the second half but Armstrong answered inside at the 7:25 mark to start a 7-1 run to cut the lead to seven points at 51-44 with 3:40 left in the period.
The Warriors had a chance to cut the lead to five points but couldn’t get a shot to fall and James Wundrak scored inside to stop the run and get the Wildcats’ offense rolling again with 3:27 to go in the third period. The basket started a 12-4 run to close out the period and gave the Wildcats a 63-48 lead heading into the final period.
“I was proud of how our kids responded in the second and third quarter,” Nethery said. “We cut it to seven and had a chance to cut it to five but missed the opportunity and then Henry County responded with a couple of layups and before you know it they had extended the lead back out to about 13 and that was probably the ball game.”
“I was proud of how we responded to Austin getting in early foul trouble,” Wildcat Coach Enoch Welch said. “Everyone stepped up and played with the ‘next man up’ mentality. Chase Howard came up with some big buckets at crucial points.”
Howard scored the first five points of the fourth period on a layup and 3-pointer to extend the Wildcats’ lead to 20 points, their largest of the game. The Wildcats continued the run with an inside basket by Young, a layup by New and a steal and layup by Howard to make it 74-49 and put the game away with 5:25 left. The teams traded baskets the rest of the way to set the final margin at 25 points.
Welch felt that his team showed poise in the heated rivalry game.
“I was proud of our guys for not getting caught up in the emotion of the game and just playing our game,” he said.
“Landon New had another big night with 20 points, six rebounds and five assists. James had a great game with 13 points and eight rebounds and Dakota Estes was three for three from behind the arc.”
“I really believe this is going to help us in the future,” Nethery said. “I was really pleased with the effort and Shelby really did a lot of good stuff. I have been telling him he could do that every night. Jake McKinley and Trevor Payton learned lessons that will really benefit them in the future. They were forced into the role of primary ball handlers and that will help them. Mitchell Golden got more aggressive when Jalen went out and he did a good job, especially in the second quarter, but foul trouble hurt him.”
“I’m not knocking how Henry County played because they played very well but we made some mistakes that hurt us when the game was still on the line. We have to learn from those mistakes and be able to respond as a team to adversity.”
Both coaches agreed that Henry County’s guard play was a key in the game.
“We did a terrible job covering the 3-point line in the second quarter and Henry County’s guards took advantage of it,” Nethery said. “Chase Howard played a really good game for Henry County. I was impressed with him being pass first but he broke away from that when they needed it and had some big buckets.”
“We did a good job of attacking inside out and getting open looks which our guards knocked down,” Welch said. “Our guards defended well and got some deflections. “Overall our floor play was good and we played with intensity all night. We can build on that. Going forward we have to do a better job of defending the dribbler and rebounding.”
With the win the Wildcats improved to 3-0 while the Warriors fell to 1-1 on the young season.