Freshman Connor Hoskins led Buckhorn in scoring with 22 points Thursday at home as the Wildcats handed the Cordia Lions their third straight loss.
Buckhorn coach John Noble said his plan from the outset was to ratchet up their defensive pressure to help them capture an early lead. That pressure did seem to cause early trouble for the Lions, who were without the services of their leading scorer, junior guard A.J. Tagaloa, who sat out to nurse a sore ankle.
The Wildcats were able to capture the lead, but as Noble noted after the game, his team wasn’t always able to maintain that advantage.
“We try to get in there, especially in front of our home crowd … and we try to get the crowd going, try to get some pressure on them and get them to kick it around little,” Noble said. “We try and build a little lead, but we’ve got to do a better job of holding that lead once we get it.”
Cordia got on the board first with two free throws from freshman guard A.J. Chisolm with just a minute off the clock, but it wouldn’t be long before Noble’s young team, which is made up mostly of freshmen and sophomores, took the lead and extended it to nine points late in the first quarter.
Buckhorn continued to maintain their full court press and cause the Lions some trouble in the opening frame, and while Cordia was able to whittle down the lead, Buckhorn took a 21-16 advantage into the second quarter.
Cordia, meanwhile, continued to chip away at the Wildcats’ lead. An Austin Combs three at the four-minute mark cut the score to 25-24, and the Lions would eventually take the lead near the end of the half when Cordia’s Justin Cornett scored a bucket under the goal.
A basket by Richard Stidham later pushed the Wildcats ahead by one just before the buzzer sent the game to half time.
Cordia came out for the second half and immediately went to work on both ends of the court. Senior Dondre Warren put the Lions ahead 34-33, and a quick steal led to a basket by Matt Neace, pushing the score to 36-33.
Both teams play an up-and-down style, and Cordia exerted their own pressure in the third quarter, leading to a costly turnover and some missed shots for Buckhorn. A three from guard Zack Owens gave Cordia the 43-36 lead, but the Wildcats would later begin to even the score, first as Dylan Cole made two free throws after Owens was assessed with a technical foul, and the Wildcats would then tie the game at 45 at the 2:15 mark.
Buckhorn held on to a two-point lead going onto the fourth quarter, but it wouldn’t last as Cordia seemed to have an answer each time Buckhorn added points to the board. The game see-sawed back and forth until the final minute when Buckhorn would go up for good. Cordia was forced to resort to late fouls, but three straight free throws, the first from Dylan Cole and then two from Connor Hoskins, put the game on ice.
Buckhorn went on to pick up the 65-63 win.
Coach Noble called his team’s win a hard fought victory, and it was Cordia’s athleticism that really caused some problems down the stretch.
“We had to contain their penetration,” Noble said. “They got to the lane way too easy. We just didn’t play the way we are capable of playing, and that had a lot to do with their quickness.”
Noble said his team seems to play better on both ends when they’re knocking down shots, but he’s looking for his players to realize that even if their shots aren’t falling, their defense will still need to hold. And if they can do that, he thinks his team has the potential to grab that lead and hold it down the stretch.
“The key for us right now seems to be making shots,” he said. “If we can make shots, it seems to get the rest of our game going. Once we understand that if you’re not making shots you’ve still got to play defense, it’s going to help us.”
Buckhorn improved to 11-7 on the season, and will play again at home on Saturday, Jan. 12 against another 14th Region foe in the Jenkins Cavaliers.
Cordia, led in scoring by 8th grader Austin Combs with 14 points, dropped to 8-6, and will head back to Lotts Creek for a match-up with June Buchanan on Friday, Jan. 11.
Both teams will also be playing next week in the 14th Region All A Classic.
Buckhorn stats: Connor Hoskins: 22 points; Dylan Cole: 13 points; Josh Crank: 9 points; James Blair: 9 points; Caleb Estep: 9 points; Peyton Cooper: 2 points; Ryan Boggs: 2 points; Richard Stidham: 2 points
Cordia stats: Austin Combs: 14 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals; Marquis Nowell: 13 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist; Matt Neace: 13 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block; Dondre Warren: 8 points, 21 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks; Zack Owens: 7 points, 4 rebounds; A.J. Chisolm: 4 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists; Stefon Hill: 1 point, 1 rebound; Marcus Nowell: 1 assist