KINGSPORT - Three injured starters, 23 turnovers and a 20-point halftime deficit proved to be too much for Sullivan South to overcome Friday.
With Reid Powell, Matthew Crowe and Curtis Tingle looking on from the Rebels' bench, Sullivan Central jumped out to a big lead in the first half and weathered a South run in the second half to grab a 74-59 Big 9 Conference road win.
The Cougars hit seven 3-pointers in the first two quarters and applied plenty of defensive pressure on their way to a 47-27 lead at the break.
But Central's shooters came out cold in the third quarter, opening the door for an undermanned South squad to mount a comeback.
"In the first half, we played extremely well," Central coach Tony Vaughn said. "We played with a lot of emotion.
"But we came out in the second half and, to South's credit, they didn't quit; they battled extremely hard."
The Rebels trailed 53-30 midway through the third quarter before reeling off the final 11 points of the period.
South extended the run to 14-0 in the early moments of the final period, pulling to within nine of Central.
But that was as close as the Rebels got as the Cougars regrouped and fatigue finally appeared to get the better of South.
Central eventually stretched the lead back out to 20 points with two minutes left to play and cruised to victory from there.
The Cougars managed to connect on only one 3-pointer in the second half after getting off to such a hot start.
"We've played a lot of games over the past couple weeks, so maybe tired legs had something to do with it," Vaughn said. "But we didn't come out (in the second half) with enough intensity."
Wes Baker came up big for Central (16-9, 7-5), scoring a game-high 20 points.
Matt McCroskey finished with 15 points - all on 3s - for the Cougars. Andrew McCann and Justin Hess had 10 points each.
Aaron Willey led South (7-15, 4-9) with 16 points. Henry Ringley scored 14, and Jacob McCann and Dustin Sims added 10 apiece.
While the South boys were unable to complete their comeback, Central's girls overcame an early 10-point deficit to beat the Lady Rebels 51-46.
On the heels of an upset win over Science Hill on Tuesday, South got off to a fast start against the Lady Cougars thanks in part to an aggressive 2-3 zone.
"They started in a matchup zone and we were frustrated," Central coach Gary Surcey said. "They took us out of what we planned to do."
With their offense at a standstill, the Lady Cougars fell behind 18-8 after the first quarter.
With his team still trailing by seven at the break, Surcey took a page out of Vaughn's playbook and the Lady Cougars started finding some open shots in the third quarter.
"They got used to our cuts, so we changed to something the boys run," Surcey said.
Central took its first lead with 3:37 left in the third period and outscored the Lady Rebels 17-8 in the fourth to secure the win.
South coach Josh Tate said his team's rhythm suffered when Grace Collins went to the bench in the third quarter with her fourth foul.
"We need her out there," Tate said. "Her backup is just a freshman, and she'll do well in time, but right now we need Grace in the game."
Whitney Moody paced Central (14-10, 7-5) with 20 points while Christina Howard added 10.
Samantha Williams led the way for South (11-10, 6-7) with 13 points. Natalie Pickwell and Collins had 12 apiece.