BOONE - There was plenty of firepower on display Friday night as the McDowell Titans and Watauga Pioneers battled in Northwestern Conference action.
Unfortunately, the home-standing Pioneers had a few extra bullets in their arsenal as they held off the Titans 97-88 at Lentz-Eggers Gymnasium in a high-scoring affair.
The contest featured 21 lead changes, with offense coming from all parts of the floor.
Watauga (10-9 overall, 5-5 NW3A/4A) erupted from behind the perimeter, making a whopping 17 3-pointers as a team. Blane St. Clair made five long-range shots of his own to led the Pioneers with 29 points and Jake Sears matched the effort with 15 points, all from behind the 3-point line. Guards Zach West (10 points), Anderson Castle (13 points) and Jaiden Bond (10 points) also placed in double figures for Watauga.
A good number of those long-range shots early on helped the Pioneers offset a strong first-half effort from McDowell guard Dylan McRary (8 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) who had 21 of his 24 points in the first half and sophomore post Trent Lewis, who scored a career-high 29 points to go with seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.
The first half along features 16 lead changes. The Titans' largest advantage of the game was early in the second quarter when Richard Handy’s rebound and score at the 7-minute mark of the second gave McDowell a 33-26 advantage.
After that play, the Pioneers went on a mini-run of 8-1 to even the score up, thanks in part to 3s from Sears at the 6:12 mark and from Ethan Rothrock prior to that.
The rest of the half stayed within a one possession game with the Titans up 49-47 at the break.
McDowell continued to battle the rest of the night, keeping a slim lead of two points as late as the final 90 seconds of the third quarter. Qualique Garner (25 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists) made it 68-66 in favor of McDowell with two free throws with 1:41 left in the third.
That turned out to be the last Titan lead of the night as Watauga finished the third with a 9-1 run to take a 75-69 lead after three quarters. Bennett Ricker nailed a three-ball from the corner on the next Pioneer possession to regain the lead. West added two scores and Jackson Greene scored in that frame, and it proved to be a turning point in the game.
In the fourth, McDowell got back within four points on a couple occasions but could not slow down Watauga offensively. Sears put the game away with his final 3-pointer of the night at the 1:16 mark in the fourth, giving the Pioneers their biggest lead of the night at 93-83.
“I thought the effort we gave was probably the best we have provided all year. Offensively, we did a great job moving the ball and getting a good mix of inside and outside, getting different people involved. Moving the ball around and not doing too much one-on-one. We did some good things there,” said McDowell head coach Brian Franklin.
“The problem was not being able to stop them. Early on they hit a lot of shots, especially from 3, and it carried over. And I thought several of them were contested, we were able to defend them and they still made it. That was the story of the game.”
McDowell (9-11, 3-7) returns home on Tuesday against Alexander Central to begin the final two weeks of regular-season play. They will have three of their last four games at Titan Gym.