GRAY — A young Sullivan Central team has struggled to learn what it takes to win close basketball games, but Friday, the Cougars seemed to have all the right answers.
Josh Kaiko sparked a 14-4 Central run to open the game and Carl Roberts went 7-of-8 from the foul line in the final 90 seconds to help the Cougars preserve a key 62-58 Big 9 Conference victory at Daniel Boone.
“It was an overall good team win — we played one of our best games so far this year,” Central coach Tony Vaughn said. “We’re pretty young, so learning how to win is important right now.”
Central entered the season without a returning starter and very little in the way of experience on the roster. Needless to say, Friday’s win was just what the doctor ordered.
Boone roared back from a 12-point deficit in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter, pulling within two at the 1:18 mark.
Vaughn said he reminded his team to play solid defense, hit the boards and knock down its foul shots in order to preserve the slim lead.
“We didn’t want to foul them and we tried to limit them to one shot,” Vaughn said.
Leading 55-53, Central came out of the huddle and did everything right for the final 78 seconds.
Roberts made a pair of free throws, the Cougar defense forced a turnover and Roberts made two more foul shots to push the lead to 59-53.
Nick Jones hit a pair of shots for Boone in the final 30 seconds, but Roberts hit three more foul shots to keep the Cougars one step ahead of the Trailblazers.
Roberts and Kaiko scored 18 points each to lead Central (7-9, 3-4) while Boone’s Blake Moncier poured in 26 to lead all scorers.
Brandon Lewis added 10 points and eight rebounds for Boone (11-7, 1-6).
Central’s domination on the glass was a big key in deciding the outcome — the Cougars outrebounded the Trailblazers 37-28. Tyler DeVault led Central with 13 rebounds while Patrick Albright chipped in eight.
While the Trailblazers’ 12-2 fourth-quarter run was almost enough to help them steal the win, Boone coach Ryan Arnold said his team can’t rely on last-minute heroics.
“The bottom line is that you can’t wait until the last two minutes to play as hard as you can,” he said. “We need to play a full game.”
In the girls’ game, the Lady Trailblazers used a 12-2 run to slam the door on the Lady Cougars.
Central pulled within six in the late going, but Boone dug in its heels and emerged with a 62-48 victory.
“We got in a comfort zone early, like we were playing in cruise control on defense,” Boone coach Tim Campbell said. “They were scoring, we were scoring — it looked kind of like a WNBA game there for a while.”
After leading 35-31 at the half, Boone played better defense the rest of the way and limited Central to just 17 points in the second half.
As usual, seniors Holly Nickels and Megan Caldwell handled the bulk of the offense for the Lady Trailblazers (11-4, 5-2), combining to score 42 of Boone’s 62 points.
Caldwell led the way with 22 points and six rebounds while Nickels added 20 points and eight boards.
Brittany Fields led Central (7-9, 2-5) with 14 points on the strength of four 3-pointers. Caitlin Queen added 10 points for the Lady Cougars.