Cloudland escaped with a 44-42 road win at University High by the skin of its teeth on Monday night after both teams leading players were knocked out of the game.
UH’s Seth Hilbert launched a 3-point attempt from halfcourt at the buzzer which bounced off the backboard and the rim after the Junior Bucs had rallied from a 10-point deficit to nearly take the game away from the Highlanders.
Both teams paid a heavy price as Cloudland’s Taylor Whitehead went out with an ankle injury in the first half, and the game was later stopped in the third quarter after the Junior Bucs’ leading scorer Marcus Taylor hit his head on the stage wall at the end of the court.
Feeling nauseous after the fall, Taylor was forced to sit out the rest of the game.
With their leader on the bench the Junior Bucs (4-3, 15-8) never flinched, coming back from 10 points down to take a 39-37 lead with 3:54 left.
Cloudland retook the lead and held a 44-39 lead in the closing seconds before a banked-in 3-pointer by Marshall Hurley cut the lead to two, and then an intercepted pass by Hilbert on the in-bounds with two seconds left set up the winning shot attempt.
“Any loss is tough, but I felt like the kids who finished the game played their rear ends off and showed a lot of courage against a lot of adversity, against a really good team,” UH head coach Justin Penley said. “We had a shot there at the end. That’s about all you can ask for with the situation that we were in.”
The game was crucial to the Watauga Valley Conference standings. By earning a rare road win in the league and an even rarer win inside Brooks Gym, Cloudland improved to 4-1 and 16-8 overall. The Junior Bucs fell to 4-3 and 15-8.
“This is a tough place to play and we’ve traditionally had trouble here,” Cloudland head coach Brandon Carpenter said. “I’m pleased to get the win, just a little disappointed we didn’t put it away when we had the chance.”
With 12 points, Hilbert was the leading scorer for a University High team, which at the end of the game was missing both of its top two scorers from earlier in the season. There was Taylor and Joseph Phillips, who’s out for the year with a back injury.
Making their comeback more improbable, the Junior Bucs were trailing 33-23 when Taylor went down. It was a collective effort which pulled them back in the contest. Taylor ended with eight points, while Gabe Perry and Hurley both finished with seven.
“It’s a whole lot different than the team I envisioned back in the summer,” Penley said. “But, you have to roll with what you’ve got and hopefully, Marcus will be OK. But, the kids that we had out there, they battled their tails off. When kids play hard, you have a chance and that’s what I preach to them every day.”
Zac Potter led the Highlanders with 10 points, while Dylan McClellan ended with eight points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Mason Carnett also scored eight points, including a 3-pointer that put Cloudland in the lead for good.
Still, there was plenty of concern afterwards. Whitehead spent the final quarter of the game sitting on a row of chairs with ice on his left ankle.
“Taylor’s a big part of our team,” Carpenter said. “On both ends of the floor, he sets the tone for us. We missed him. Thankfully, some of our young guys stepped up because I felt some of our older guys got comfortable and let up a little bit. University High got some momentum. They’re good here. I don’t think they had lost all season here.”
Cloudland (girls) 60
University High 27
The Lady Highlanders scored the first 16 points of the ball game and raced out to a 29-13 halftime lead to improve to 5-0 in the Watauga Valley Conference and 16-9 overall.
Brooke Rhodes scored 13 points in limited action to lead a balanced Cloudland team, which had four others score at least seven points.
“The way we opened the game set the tone,” Cloudland head coach Matt Birchfield said. “Sometimes, that’s tough, especially on the road. Usually if you play well early, you’ll play well late so I felt good about that.”
Megan Blair scored 10 points and Jurnee Carr added six for the Lady Jr. Bucs (0-7, 8-10). University High was without Taylor Treadway who suffered a concussion in Monday’s loss to Hampton.
Next up for Cloudland is a league showdown against North Greene on Friday night.
“That’s big for us to be undefeated going down the stretch with everyone starting the second round of games,” Birchfield said. “We have North Greene, ranked No. 8 in the state, coming in to our place on Friday. It was big to win tonight, but we better be ready to play Friday.”