A game after needing a furious fourth-quarter rally against Asheville, Tuscola boys basketball controlled play from start to finish in an 82-62 win over West Henderson Friday night in Waynesville.
Junior Nate Brafford led the Mountaineers with 34 points, followed by Coleman Bryson with 16, Max Riester with 13 and Blake Reed with nine. The win gives Tuscola seven victories in its last nine games.
"Our role players, tonight, had to step up," said head coach Nathan Messer. "And they did. They got big shots at big times, got rebounds. Just like Blake getting an awesome dunk for him, boosts his confidence. Things like that help us finish the season strong. That was huge for us to have contributions from people that don't normally give it to us on a regular basis. It was awesome tonight. I think we can see that moving forward."
The Mountaineers got off to a quick start in this one, taking a 12-5 lead halfway through the first quarter on a three-point play by Bryson.
After the Falcons cut Tuscola’s lead to four with a 3-pointer, Tuscola ended the quarter on an 11-6 run to extend its lead to nine, aided by deep shots from Brafford and Riester.
"We just hit shots that we need to hit," Bryson said. "We played tremendously well as a team, making the open passes, making the extra passes to get the wide-open shot other than the one we could have gotten. We got steals. We made them make mistakes and then capitalized on those mistakes."
After West Henderson cut Tuscola’s lead to four about halfway through the second quarter, the Mountaineers were quick to hit back.
Tuscola stymied the Falcons on defense, and rattled off seven unanswered points, capped off by a 3-pointer by Trent Turner to give the Mounties a 35-24 lead with under two minutes to play until halftime.
The Mountaineers took a 35-29 lead into the half.
The Falcons came out firing with a 7-2 run to open the third quarter, cutting Tuscola’s lead to one with a 3-pointer just 1:24 into half.
Brafford had the answer, however; with a personal 6-0 run on an and-1 play and swish from the top of the key. Bryson then came up with a steal and lay up and, just like that, Tuscola was back up by nine.
The 3 continued to work for Tuscola, with triples from Brafford (twice) and Turner sandwiched around Falcons’ buckets putting Tuscola up 12 at 54-42 with about a minute and a half left in the third.
The final points of the quarter belonged to the Mountaineers, as a long two by junior Reed sent Tuscola to the final quarter up by 13 and looking to close out a ninth conference win.
The Mountaineers’ big night from beyond the arc continued immediately to start the fourth, as a triple by Brafford gave Tuscola a 61-45 lead.
Thanks to a pair of buckets by Bryson, Tuscola extended its lead to 20 at 68-48 with six minutes to play. Reed electrified the crowd with 4:47 left, throwing down a thunderous, two-handed dunk.
"It makes you harder to guard," Messer said. "When you have one or two people scoring, you can play a box and one or triangle and two and focus on just those three and just say, 'Alright, other guys, score.' But when the other guys score, it makes it hard to play defense on people that way. That's huge for us, to get people scoring six or five points a game. It helps a lot. It takes a lot of stress off other players."
He was called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim that allowed the Falcons to cut Tuscola’s lead to 20.
Another 3 by Brafford with three minutes and change left restored Tuscola’s 21-point lead, and effectively put the game away.
The Mountaineers will face T.C. Roberson on the road Tuesday for the first of two final regular-season conference games.
"Our focus is on one game at a time," Messer said. "Finish the season. Our next game's against T.C. We want to avenge that loss. That's just how we're going to have to play."