By David Rogers. BOONE, N.C. — In one of the most entertaining high school men’s basketball games of the year, Watauga dropped the Northwestern Conference first round game to Hibriten, 84-77.
BONUS PHOTOS at bottom of article.
Neither team was accurate from the free throw line, although the Panthers got plenty more opportunities at the charity stripe when the Pioneers were forced to foul often in the closing minutes in an effort to get the ball back with the potential to close the gap. For the game, Watauga was 9-of-18 from the foul line (50 percent) while Hibriten was 21-of-41 (51.2 percent).
A major difference maker in both halves was the ability of the Panthers to bring down offensive rebounds and get second chance points. It was a feature of the game that persisted throughout the night.
That, and the ability of Hibriten’s Nylan Battle and Thomas Vaught to drive the lane and penetrate Watauga’s defense, along with a whopping five 3-pointers by Jay Willis proved to be the Pioneers’ undoing.
Watauga junior forward Jackson Pryor brought the partisan crowd to its feet on three occasions with resounding dunks, while Grant Morrison’s three 3-pointers in the second half helped close the gap. Pryor finished with a game-high 20 points, while Morrison (13 points) and Cole Horine (10 points) also produced double figures in scoring.
Hibriten was led by Battle and Vaught, each with 19 points, while Willis finished with 16 and Kalen Bowers and Jay Maxwell added 12 and 11 points, respectively to round out the five Panthers in double figures.
Hibriten now moves on to play Alexander Central in the semifinals of the Northwestern Conference tournament’s men’s division on Thursday, in the semifinals hosted by Freedom, in Morganton.
Watauga’s season hangs in the balance. The Pioneers are the second place 4A team in the Northwestern Conference but with a 12-13 overall record, it remains to be seen whether or not that will be good enough to earn a probable low seed in the 4A state playoffs.
Alexander Central and South Caldwell are the other two 4A teams in the Northwestern Conference. As the second place team in the league standings, Alexander Central (16-7, 7-3) has the inside track on representing the Northwestern Conference in the state playoffs, but with both Watauga and South Caldwell at 12-13 overall, 5-6 in conference play counting the first round games, the jury is still out on their chances for a state playoffs berth. The Pioneers did defeat South Caldwell in their two meeting this season, so are likely to own any tiebreaker.
- WAT Jackson Pryor (20)
- HIB Nylen Battle (19)
- HIB Thomas Vaught (19)
- HIB Jay Willis (16)
- WAT Grant Morrison (13)
- HIB Kalen Bowers (12)
- HIB Jay Maxwell (11)
- WAT Cole Horine (10)
- WAT Maddox Greene (9)
- WAT Wyatt Keller (8)
- WAT Wyatt Kohout (7)
- WAT Davis Hunt (5)
- WAT Josiah Railey (5)
- HIB Bryce Horton (5)
- HIB Kayvien Felder (2)