Tall and athletic, Hampton is a tough matchup for most Northeast Tennessee basketball teams.
Add in a night when the Bulldogs are hitting from the outside, and it can become an opponent’s worst nightmare as North Greene found out in the opening game of the District 1-A boys’ basketball tournament at Science Hill.
With Cody McClain bombarding the outside with four shots behind the 3-point line in a 14-point effort and Stanley Valentine peppering the inside with a double-double of 13 points and 18 rebounds, the Bulldogs defeated the Huskies 60-36 in the elimination contest.
Unaka beat University High 51-42 in an earlier game to open the District 1-A girls’ tournament.
Besides Valentine’s big night crashing the boards, Tyler Chambers had 10 rebounds as the Bulldogs had 44 rebounds as a team.
“Coach told us if we win the battle of the boards, we win the game,” Valentine said as the Bulldogs improved to 18-13 on the season. “That was the main focus to win the battle of the boards. It’s something we’ve not done that great this year so I just wanted to come out and kill them on the boards because that’s an advantage I have.”
Up 26-19 at the half, the Bulldogs locked down on the defensive end. They held the Huskies to just one field goal in the third quarter and four in the second half.
“I thought we came out in the second half and played good defense,” Hampton head coach Ned Smith said. “We blocked out and gave them one shot. They didn’t get many offensive boards. I thought that was a difference, the way we rebounded and then pushed the ball back on our end.”
North Greene, led by Garrett Harbin with 13 points and Tyler Bailey with 12 points, finished 14-13 under first-year head coach Brandon Broyles.
Besides the top two scorers for Hampton, Wesley Murray ended with 11 points. Showing balance, Johnny Fields scored eight and Tyler Chambers finished with seven.
Unaka (girls) 51
University High 42
Kassie Winters scored a game-high 17 points as the Lady Rangers (13-16) held off a determined University High team (11-14) in the girls’ opener.
Unaka appeared ready to put the Lady Bucs away with a 12-point lead in the third quarter, only to see University High cut the margin to five 34-29 by the end of the period.
The rally included a rare four-point play by Lexi Crouthers.
After UH sliced the lead to just two points in the final quarter, Winters responded with her own four-point play to make it a six-point game.
University High kept fighting, but the Lady Rangers had too much firepower in the end.
“Kassie is best when she gets to play in space, when she doesn’t have to anticipate, but just catch it and play,” Unaka head coach Wes Wright said. “That’s her strength. She caught it and made the big shot in transition. It was a big shot for a senior who wanted to push our season several more games.”
Megan Blair finished off a stellar career with 15 points and five blocks to lead the Lady Bucs. University High head coach Rayne Price talked about how she’s helped elevate the program over her four years as have fellow seniors Jurnee Carr and Courtney Woolwine.
“I know Megan is extremely disappointed, but I couldn’t have asked for a better game from her,” Price said. “She wanted this real bad and played with some urgency. She’s brought some girls along and has set an example.
“Our other seniors, Jurnee and Courtney, have set an example with their work ethic, something the other girls can feed off of.”
Savannah Wexler tallied 12 points for University High, which also had seven points from Crouthers.
“I’m not surprised by any of that,” Price said. “Lexi has been playing really good lately. That’s a good thing about freshmen, there’s not a lot to know to be afraid of. She’s kind of jumped in from day one.”
Brandi Ensor and Alicia Colbaugh each ended with 10 points for Unaka, which felt UH did a good job of pushing the Lady Rangers.
“I thought coach Price and them had a good game plan against us,” Wright said. “They did some stuff that hurt us. It was two teams desperate for a win, desperate to continue their season, two teams which fought like that.”