BOONVILLE - The new-look Rams took a big first step Tuesday night against a veteran Surry Central side in their season opener.
Starmount hung around with the Golden Eagles for three quarters, but a four-point final frame doomed the Rams in their first game of year as Central escaped with a 56-42 victory.
“I thought we played hard,” first-year head coach Rocky Horton explained. “Having two injuries plus foul trouble hurt us tonight. But we’re young and we improved, and that’s the main thing I want to see from us. I saw some good things from people that I maybe wasn’t expecting. But Surry Central made good adjustments at halftime, especially in the fourth quarter, so a lot of credit to them.
“Our guards stepped up and handled the ball and handled their pressure well and found their own shots. Our post players played hard defense. But as a team, they stayed with the offense and trusted one another and always looked for one another,” he added.
Junior Ben Combs scored eight-straight points to open the game as the Rams came out on fire in the first quarter, grabbing a 14-10 lead late.
But bigman Zach Wilmoth scored five points in the closing seconds, including an acrobatic trey at the buzzer to put Surry Central ahead 16-15 after one.
The teams traded buckets in a back-and-forth second quarter as Starmount grabbed a 26-23 advantage on a Josh Houser layup midway through the corner.
But once again, Wilmoth scored five-straight points to push the Golden Eagles ahead at 28-26 heading into the locker room.
Surry Central never looked back in the second half extending their lead out to 41-38 before clamping down on the Rams in the final quarter.
The Eagles opened on a quick 6-0 run before Starmount got on the board with two Houser free throws to cut the lead to 47-40. But Central scored the next nine points to push the advantage out to 56-40.
Combs added a late bucket but costly turnovers and a cold-shooting fourth quarter did the Rams in.
“We just got out of our offense. Their pressure stepped up and we had a lot of costly turnovers. We had five turnovers really fast in the first three minutes of the fourth that really put us back and we were playing from behind,” Horton said. “And their offensive rebounds. To score, we have to get the ball. But when they’re getting offensive rebounds, we have to make an adjustment. Fourth quarter hurt us a lot.
“We have to limit turnovers. All of our guards or sophomores so we’re going to continue to work on that in practice. But as the year goes on, the game will slow down for them and they’ll do a fine job,” he added.
Combs paced the Rams offensively with 14 points, while James Ashley pitched in with 10 first-half points, including six-straight early in the second quarter. Houser added eight points, while Nathan Williams tacked on four.
“Pretty balanced scoring. We’d like to see some other guys get in that column. We’re going to work harder on finishing shots,” Horton said.
Despite the loss, Horton was pleased with the teams’ performance in the opener.
“I’m super excited with our guys,” he explained. “Having two of our juniors out with injuries, all we had were two seniors and two juniors. We had four sophomores and a freshman that really stepped in and played a lot of minutes and played hard and that’s really I could ask.
“This was a good first step and we’re going to continue to improve. I’m happy. I always want to win, but the guys hustled and they never let up. That’s a great first step. As long as they’re hustling and believing, we’ll be fine,” Horton added.
Starmount returns to action next week against West Wilkes in the Mountain Valley Conference opener Tuesday night before hosting North Surry Wednesday night.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.