CHURCH HILL - It was hot versus cold Monday night.
Of course, the hot-handed basketball team won - but not without a battle.
Volunteer, blazing in 49 percent of its shots in the first half while Sullivan Central was hitting a mere 21 percent, defeated the Cougars 84-65.
The Falcons (16-8, 6-5), climbing into the top tier of the Big 9 Conference standings, mounted a 27-point lead late in the second quarter.
Central (14-9, 5-5), relying on defensive pressure, made several runs at the Falcons but couldn't quite connect when it counted.
Game officials Ron Barnett, Steve Caldwell and Robbie Ramsey had to earn their money. There were 59 personal fouls called, with three players being disqualified. The teams had a combined 78 attempts from the foul line and made just 44.
Central was ice cold on its freebies, missing seven straight in one stretch. It must have been contagious because the Falcons soon fell into the same pattern of inconsistency.
The Cougars blew a golden opportunity with about two minutes left in the third quarter. After cutting the huge deficit to 57-47, they missed 4 of 5 throws in a 46-second span.
"That was it for us,'' Central coach Tony Vaughn said. "We had our chance at that time. If we'd made those free throws, it would have been a six-point game.
"We got outplayed and outhustled. (The Falcons) didn't shoot that well at the foul line, but they shot better than we did. Free throw shooting has been a problem all season - we've struggled at the line.''
Keith Cradic led Volunteer with 19 points but was shut down in the second half. Aaron Bennett scored 16 and Darren Mauk 13.
Central's scoring leader was Wes Baker with 18. Justin Hess got 12 and Josh Kaiko hit 11.
The game also had 33 turnovers, 18 by the Falcons.
"Central trapped everywhere with its pressure defense,'' Volunteer coach Todd Whittemore said. "We didn't play very smart. We learned lessons tonight, but I'd much rather we learn in a win than in a loss.''
Volunteer came out smoking. A 7-0 lead eventually became 24-8, then 43-16 before the Cougars could get their feet planted.
"We got that big lead and obviously it helped. It was our best offensive effort of the season,'' Whittemore said. "We didn't shoot free throws very well. If we had, we might have scored 100 tonight.''
Volunteer dropped in just 24 of 42 foul shots. Central went 20-for-36.
From the 3-point arc, the Cougars hit a dismal 12 percent for the game and just 33 percent of their overall field goal attempts.
Volunteer shot an even 50 percent from the floor.
"This puts us in the upper half of the conference, for now,'' Whittemore said. "The conference is nuts - that's what I like about it. That gives us a chance.
"The race is wide open. If we have a good night, we're capable of beating anybody.''
Whittemore was at a loss to explain how the Falcons were able to dismantle Central so quickly.
"If I could put it in a bottle, I would,'' he said. "Every day we stress four things: 1. defense, 2. boxing out and rebounding, 3. hitting free throws, and 4. limiting turnovers.''
Sophomore Whitney Moody fired in 22 points, including a game-changing three treys, as Central defeated Volunteer 55-45 in the girls' contest.
"She's averaging 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds,'' Central coach Gary Surcey said. "Whitney had her best outside-shooting night. She has a good jumper 6 or 8 feet from the bucket after taking a couple of hard dribbles.''
Both teams were cold at the start.
"It was a typical Monday night game,'' Surcey said. "It didn't have that crisp feel to it.
"We made 16 of 18 free throws. That phase of the game has been feast or famine for us. We either make them all or miss them all.''
Jessi Drinnon had 12 points and Shanque Price 11 for Volunteer.
"We got a little off track tonight,'' Falcons coach Dennis Anderson said. "We had good chemistry going until a couple of girls missed Sunday's practice. Brandy Barton, who has a knee problem, hadn't played or practiced in two weeks but we played her in spots tonight.''