University High is temporarily without point guard Luke Willoughby and shooting guard Joseph Phillips, but it still has quite a backcourt in Marcus Taylor.
The 5-foot-9 senior overcame constant attention from Cloudland to score 25 points, including 11-of-12 foul shooting in the fourth quarter, and the Junior Bucs pulled away for a 57-49 Watauga Valley Conference victory Friday at Brooks Gym.
Four of Taylor’s free throws came compliments of two Cloudland technical fouls in the final 63 seconds after Brady Horton’s two free throws had given UH (2-3, 8-9) a 50-41 lead.
Taylor put the finishing touches on the victory with a crowd-pleasing driving dish to Horton for a lay-in that made it 54-41 with 47 seconds left.
Horton and fellow senior frontcourt players Nate Berning and Jordan Evans were instrumental in victory, according to Taylor. They combined for 10 blocks. Horton had 14 rebounds and four blocks. Berning had five blocks and Evans had nine rebounds.
“They made it tough on me but everybody played so well around me, and that was important to the outcome,” Taylor said. “Those blocked shots are something that are invaluable. They came through really big for us.”
Taylor scored four of his five field goals and 14 points in the first half, including a pair of free throws with 4.5 seconds left in the second quarter that gave UH a 26-18 halftime lead.
“We thought they’d do a lot to limit his touches and they did a pretty good job of that,” UH coach Justin Penley said. “Some other guys that have been role players took it upon themselves to impact the game in a positive way. I thought our posts played well. I thought Brady really provided a spark for us. Cloudland usually does a good job on the glass. We had to take advantage of that size in the post.”
The Highlanders (2-2, 7-11), who were led by guard Austin Whitehead’s 16 points, opened the third quarter with a 10-run that gave them a 28-26 lead on Zack Benfield’s transition basket that Whitehead assisted with 5:51 left in the period. But Taylor answered with four straight points, including an 18-footer.
“We came out flat,” Cloudland coach Gary Harrison said. “They outplayed us the first half and we never recovered from it. We’ve gotta become more mentally tough. If you don’t play four quarters in this league you’re gonna lose.
“He (Taylor) is a great player and we knew that coming in. ... He can singlehandedly beat you.”
Dustin Estes scored 14 points for the Junior Bucs, who made 29 of 39 free throws. Cloudland was 14 of 24 at the line.
Preston Ongtengco’s 3-pointer via a two-dribble pull-up gave UH the lead for good (43-41) with 2:50 left. He dove to force a turnover at the other end 27 seconds later.
“I thought we played really well defensively and we were able to get to the free throw line and convert,” Penley said. “Down the stretch I thought we played smart.”
UH was 2 for 16 from 3-point range. Taylor made the other trey.
Colby Birchfield scored 11 points for Cloudland. Jesse Potter added eight.
Cloudland (girls) 54
University High 40
Haley Johnson scored 15 points and point guard Courtney Clarke had 14 points and five assists to help the Lady Highlanders (2-2, 17-3) outlast the fired-up Lady Junior Bucs.
Taylor Treadway’s 10-foot baseline shot went halfway down before spinning out with around 4:45 remaining, It would’ve cut Cloudland’s lead to 46-39, Instead, Clarke found Johnson for a transition basket that made it 48-37 with 4:25 to go.
University High coach Rayne Price credited Clarke as Cloudland’s catalyst.
“We wanted to stay between her and the basket and make her a shooter,” Price said. “She does a good job of making them go.”
Barrett Wherry scored 14 points for University High (0-5, 5-10). Treadway and Brie Nikolous added 10 and eight, respectively. The University High starters played 159 of 160 minutes.
“I was real encouraged by how they played tonight,” Price said. “It’s hard to be mad when the girls are playing that hard, especially when they (starters) are playing (basically) the whole game.”
Forward Courtney Wilson scored 12 points for Cloudland.