So far, so good for Tuscola boys basketball in the 2019-20 season. The Mountaineers fired on all cylinders Tuesday night, opening the year with a 77-48 road win over Smoky Mountain.
The Mountaineers employed a balanced scoring attack against their rival Mustangs, with nine different players finding the score sheet, led by Nate Brafford with 34 points, Trent Turner with 16 and Coleman Bryson with nine.
“One of our things that we talk to them about is just playing hard,” said head coach Nathan Messer. “If you play hard and you don’t quit, just keep playing, good things are going to happen. That’s something that we’ve started and we build. No matter who it is that comes in, they play that way. That’s something we look forward to, it’s fun to watch when they play hard like that.”
The Mountaineers roared out of the gate in the first quarter, taking a 16-6 lead into the break. Tuscola used lights-out shooting from beyond the arc to dominate the opening frame, hitting four 3-pointers.
“That’s one thing that I’ve told them: the ones that can shoot, don’t hesitate,” Messer said. “We’ve got to shoot it. That’s the only way we’re going to learn how to make shots. By them taking them and making them, it just builds confidence for us.”
Tuscola continued its hot-shooting ways into the second quarter, and took a 17-point lead to the half at 37-20.
“This team shares the ball very well,” Messer said. “It’s something we’ve talked about, a small advantage versus a big advantage. They bought into it, and so they’ll drive and pass. It’s great. Right now, it’s one of the better things we’ve had passing the basketball and sharing the basketball.”
Tuscola used an 111-2 run through the first three minutes and change of the second half to break the game open, pushing its lead to 48-22. The Mounties used a strong transition game to increase their lead, turning Smoky Mountain turnovers into points.
“This team’s bought into our defensive philosophy of rotating and helping each other out,” Messer said. “Right now, they’re further along defensively than other teams we’ve had, and it’s tremendous to watch what happens. Right now, we’re able to go from zone to man back to zone again. They’re able to make the calls on the court without me having to do it, which I think is even better because it’s growth in them. That’s them being a coach on the court, which is great.”
Brafford and Bryson both threw down one-handed dunks late in the third quarter to delight the large Tuscola contingent that made its way to nearby Sylva.
“We were all excited,” Brafford said. “The bench got into it and got really excited, which helped us get some momentum to go a big run.”
The Mounties strong play allowed them to have things all but wrapped up heading into the final frame, with a 60-35 lead through three quarters.
“If everyone’s hitting their shots, we play more as a team,” Turner said. “We were able to get some other people open and get some open shots.”
The Mountaineers’ large lead late allowed the team to get its bench involved, giving the entire team valuable playing experience to start the season.
“Your third teamers push your second teamers and your second teamers push your first teamers,” Messer said. “Your role might be to push the first and second teamers. You could rewarded by what happens when we get the lead and you get to get in. They bought into that role.”
Tuscola will be back in action at rival Pisgah next Tuesday.