In a game dominated by defense, nobody stood out more than Calen Archer.
The University High senior finished with eight points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots, helping the Junior Bucs earn a hard-fought 45-38 win over Unaka on Tuesday night at Brooks Gym.
It was the second straight big Watauga Valley Conference victory for UH (3-0, 9-3) while the Rangers fell to 0-1, 3-5.
Archer not only made his presence felt on the defensive end, but his tip-in with 1:44 left in the game gave the Junior Bucs a 40-36 lead. Unaka didn’t get closer than three points the rest of the way.
“I knew he was going to miss the shot because he came in with a full head of steam,” said Archer. “At first I just tried to get the rebound, but then the tip-in came.”
It was a fitting finish to an all-around standout effort for Archer.
“I try for every night to be my night,” he said. “I just hustle hard and see what I can do for my team.”
University High head coach Justin Penley said Archer is coming into his own.
“Coming into the season I felt like he had the potential to be a good player for us,” said Penley. “In the offseason he decided he wanted to make a difference in his senior year, and he committed himself to getting better.”
Junior Marcus Taylor also had a big impact in the win. He scored 10 of his 19 points in the last three minutes of the first half and the first 2:21 of the second half.
It was during that same stretch where the Junior Bucs took control of the game. They turned a 19-12 deficit into a 27-20 lead, holding Unaka to just one point for a stretch of 7:23.
“That’s obviously a great defensive effort, which we had to have tonight,” said Penley.
Another key play in the game came with 42.4 seconds left, when Joseph Phillips scooped up a loose ball and battled his way to the rim for a bucket and a foul. He missed the free throw, but re-extended UH’s lead to five points at 43-38.
Seth Hilbert also made a clutch basket and free throw late in the game. Taylor sealed the win with a driving layup with 20 seconds remaining.
Penley said Unaka’s defense was part of the reason for the low-scoring game.
“Their kids are hard-nosed, and they contest things like we do,” said Penley.
Combined with Friday’s win over Hampton, the Junior Bucs are creating quite a buzz in the Class A ranks.
“This puts our confidence up a lot,” said Archer. “But we don’t want to get our heads too big.”
The Rangers got 16 points from Logan Carrier. Billy Bales added eight points and nine rebounds.