Tuscola boys basketball used a dominant third quarter Wednesday night to pick up the season sweep over nonconference rival Smoky Mountain, winning 66-45 in Waynesville.
A night after scoring his 1,000th career point, junior Nate Brafford led the way with 33 points, followed by Trent Turner and Coleman Bryson with eight apiece. It was an all hands on deck rivalry win for the Mountaineers.
“Them and Pisgah, between them two, everyone of our games is a knock-down drag out,” Messer said. “We’re just happy to get the better end of it this year. Even in that game, it’s fighting, all the way through the game, neither one of us was shooting the ball well. We held them to 15 in the first half and we only scored 25. It was a hard-fought ball game.”
The first quarter opened to a defensive battle, but Tuscola began to pick up its offense as it went along. A pair of free throws by Brafford in the final seconds gave the Mountaineers a 13-7 lead after eight minutes.
“Everyone is playing hard,” Bryson said. “Nate’s doing what he needs to do and leading the team. Me, Trent, [Blake Reed], everybody’s doing their part and just helping us get Ws.”
Brafford brought the flair to open the second quarter, coming up with a steal and throwing down a one-handed dunk to delight the crowd. After that dunk, however; it was all Smoky Mountain, as the Mustangs picked up six unanswered points to get within two. After Ephraim Tice put Tuscola up by three with a free-throw, the Mustangs continued to inch closer, cutting the Mountaineers’ lead to one.
Turner hit two free throws to push Tuscola’s lead to 18-15 with 2:11 to go in the half, and that started a 9-0 run to end the half, capped off by a 3 by Luke Williamson to give the Mountaineers a 25-15 lead heading to the room.
“We wanted to get those extra possessions throughout the game,” Messer said. “We had some people getting rebounds or just a tip on the ball and getting it to somebody else, to the people who need to be scoring. They’re working on it and doing a great job.”
Similar to the first game against Smoky Mountain, Tuscola used the third quarter to take control. The Mountaineers overwhelmed the Mustangs over that course of eight minutes on both sides of the ball, outscoring them 26-12 to take a 24-point lead into the final frame.
The Mountaineers played strong defense and kept their red-hot offense, going, opening the first four minutes of the quarter with an 18-6 run to take a 22-point lead at 43-21. Tuscola took a 51-27 lead into the fourth quarter, looking to close out a season sweep of its nonconference rival.
“One of the things we’re trying to work on with this group is our first and third quarter,” Messer said. “Making sure we come out ready with energy. The last two ball games, we’ve had that, which is big for us.”
The Mountaineers continued to pull away in the fourth quarter, and pushed their lead to 27 at 60-33 with four minutes to play.
The big lead late allowed Tuscola’s bench players to get some playing time, much to the delight of the Mountaineer student section and fans. A layup by senior Adam Ball with just over a minute left brought a roar of approval from the Tuscola students.
“They come to practice every day like we do and they work like we do,” Bryson said. “You love to see them get in the game. They made the team for a reason, so we love to see them get some buckets.”
Tuscola will hit the road to face Enka Friday.