DSC_2137 Jett Benson.jpg

SCORING THREAT — Tuscola junior shooting guard Jett Benson looks to finish around the rim during a home loss to Mitchell in December. Benson and the Mountaineers are set to host Pisgah on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.

After going 4-3 in its first seven games of the season, Tuscola’s boys basketball team has hit a rough patch, dropping its fourth straight matchup in a 69-54 loss at Mountain Seven foe East Henderson on Tuesday night.

The game was Tuscola’s first in nearly two weeks after the Mountaineers were forced out of the Swain County Holiday Tournament due to COVID protocols. Head Coach Nathan Messer thought the extended break played a role in the loss.

“That’s a big issue, not being able to get in the gym and practice because we had kids around COVID,” Messer said. “It did hurt us with conditioning throughout the game as it went longer. The more tired we got, the more mistakes we made because we’re not in shape.”

Messer said the Mountaineers have also struggled with protecting possession of the ball, often turning the ball over and giving opposing teams extra possessions.

“Our biggest problem is really not our offense or our defense, it’s turnovers. If we can cut down our turnovers, we’ll be in more ball games longer,” Messer said.

Tuscola (4-7, 0-3) trailed East Henderson (9-4, 1-2) by nine at halftime, but the Eagles used an 18-0 run in the third quarter to create more separation and take control.

Messer said he’s been preaching to the team not to play worried and to focus on staying loose and having fun.

“We’ve talked to them about just having fun. From here on out, you’ve got 10, 11 games left. Forget about everything, let’s just play and have fun and move from there,” Messer said. “Y’all have been dealt a bad hand, this is the hand you’ve got, so let’s have fun and not worry about anything. We have nothing to lose.”

Ahead of the matchup with cross-country rival Pisgah on Friday, Messer doesn’t want his team to feel like there’s any added pressure. The Bears are 6-5 and 2-1 in the Mountain Seven and ride a two-game winning streak into Friday’s contest.

“I told them ‘Guys, we’re not supposed to win this ball game. Nobody’s giving us a chance anyway, so let’s just go and have fun. Don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself— just play and have fun.’ We can’t worry about all the hoopla,” Messer said.

Tipoff for the varsity boys game is set for 7:30 p.m. from Tuscola.

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