RONDA — Tuesday night rang in the new year for East Wilkes and Starmount basketball programs, and saw the girls and boys teams go head-to-head.
East Wilkes 49 – Starmount 19
The East Wilkes girls started out the 2016 portion of the season with a convincing 49-19 win over Starmount. Early on, Starmount was keeping pace, riding on the momentum of its first win of the year, which came in a tournament over the holidays.
Midway through the second quarter though, the Cardinals (5-5, 3-0 MVAC) flipped the switch and went on a 14-0 run from which the Rams could never recover. Six players on the Cardinals roster added 19 points in that quarter, and carried the same success over to the third.
“Take the first quarter and push that aside, and I thought second quarter, third, and fourth, we were able to capitalize on some easy chip-ins,” East Wilkes Head Coach Matt Campbell said. “We calmed down and got back, it’s been a while since we’ve played here at home in front of our home crowd. Glad to be back.”
East Wilkes has some size, and it paid dividends for them as they snagged 41 rebounds on the night. Campbell said their rebounding margin will be one of the keys for the team down for the second half of the season.
“Forty-one, that’s a big number, and if we can get that every night we’ll be competitive with everybody, and it’s continuing to develop with this young team. They’re getting comfortable in the style that we’re trying to play,” Campbell said.
Early on, Cardinals sophomore Tess Jolly’s 3-pointers were big, as even when Starmount was getting points early, Jolly helped the lead grow as the rest of the team joined in. Jolly finished with three 3-pointers on the night and 11 points overall. Sophomore Lauren Johnson had nine points, while four players had six points each.
For Starmount (1-11, 0-3 MVAC), sophomore Chloe Ford battled her way for seven points, while junior Courtney Byrd’s six points both came off of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. The biggest thing for them this season so far has been keeping the intensity up for an entire 32 minutes. When they do that, they might not win every game, but as they develop, they can frustrate even some of the higher seeds in the conference.
Starmount 70 – East Wilkes 54
The Starmount boys won the game of momentum, taking down the Cardinals 70-54. To do that, they’d need some big rebounds, and everyone pitched in.
Starmount pulled out to a 25-9 lead after the first quarter, but slowly but surely, the Cardinals found a way to claw back. Despite pulling ahead by 10 midway through the third, a 6-0 run by East Wilkes (2-9, 0-3 MVAC) capped off by a 3-pointer by senior Andrew Nance put the Cardinals the closest they’d been since the start of the game.
“Really, for us it was just offensively not being patient and getting the ball where it needed to go,” Starmount Head Coach Rocky Horton said. “Patience is important with everything.”
It was a battle all the way to the end, but a great team effort was the main reason the Rams closed it out to move to 4-8 on the season. Senior Kyler Gregory returned to action from a foot injury a few games prior, and the team’s tallest man delivered on both ends of the court. His biggest point of the night came just after Nance’s 3-pointer, as he forced a turnover and slammed it home to put the Rams up by five. Gregory finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds.
“We definitely have gotten things to click, and started to play with each other a whole lot better,” Gregory said. “I’m just glad to be back out there, and doing what I can to help them out.”
Gregory wasn’t the only man to come up big. Junior Houston Nicks came two points away from a double-double with eight points and 10 rebounds. Senior Brandon Prescott came two rebounds away from a double-double as well with 15 points and eight rebounds. Senior Andrew Smythers also delivered 14 points, 7 assists, and 7 rebounds.
“Houston played his butt off; you can tell he’s been putting the work in the gym. Played great defense for us, and he’ll knock you around,” Horton said.
The biggest thing for the Rams in Gregory’s absence has been how the team has grown. In the five-plus games without him in the lineup, they improved in many aspects of the game. Because of that, despite their record, they could definitely go on a run if they maintain their physical style of play and continue to grow.
“They’ve really all stepped up as a team rebounding-wise since I’ve been out,” Gregory said. “Now that I’m back it makes my job a little easier because we’re all crashing the board hard.”
“We’re still adjusting, because we’ve played longer without him than with him,” Horton said. “We’re readjusting offensively what our strategies are, and that’s the patience, where it’s got to come.”
East Wilkes, meanwhile, wound up on the wrong side of the tilt, but there are some positives that can come out of its performance. Senior Shareef Ray had 13 defensive rebounds and seven points, while junior Joah Logan had 22 points and five assists.
East Wilkes and Starmount will both be playing at home Friday night, with East Wilkes matching up with Ashe County, and Starmount set for battle against West Wilkes.
Ryan DeCosta can be reached at 336-258-4052 or via Twitter @rsdecosta.