no avatar

University High holds off Sullivan Central 53-51

Douglas Fritz • Dec 11, 2019 at 12:00 AM

JOHNSON CITY — Tight games early in the season are a coach’s delight.

Win while you’re learning? That’s even better.

That’s what University High did Tuesday night at Brooks Gym, pulling out a 53-51 victory over Sullivan Central in a non-conference basketball game.

“Even when you don’t play your best and you can still pull out a win, it’s good for us going forward,” said UH head coach Herman Rice. “We’ve been in tough games early.”

University High improved to 3-3 on the season while Central fell to 2-8.


UH got a transition trey from Marshall Fleenor to open a four-point lead early in the fourth quarter. But Central had an answer, battling back to a 45-45 tie on Joltin Harrison’s driving layup with 4:54 left in the game.

It stayed tight until the finish with Kaleb Meredith making two of four free throws late for the eventual margin of victory. Central had a chance for a tie with three seconds remaining, but had to go the length of the court. Zach Rice’s defensive play kept the Cougars from getting off a shot.

“We told them defend, but don’t foul,” said Rice. “Zach went up with the guy and deflected it. It fell to the ground. I was sitting there thinking, ‘Don’t foul, don’t foul, because it’s going to be hard for them to shoot a 40-foot turnaround at the buzzer.”


Watauga Valley Conference play begins Friday at North Greene.

“We told the kids, some of the mistakes we’re making right now are not going to be good enough,” said Rice. “We’ve got to clean some things up.”


Matthew Carter led the Bucs with 16 points and Meredith was close behind with 15. Mason Broome added 13.

For Central, Harrison led the way with 18 points while Ty Barb added 14.


University High came out hot. The Bucs jumped ahead early and pushed their lead to 20-10 early in the second quarter.

However, the Cougars finished the half strong. They outscored UH 15-7 to the halftime buzzer to trail by only two, 27-25, at the break.


UH battled out to a moderate lead early in the third quarter, but the Cougars battled back. They sliced a 38-32 deficit and forged ahead, 39-38, before UH took a one-point lead into the fourth quarter.


Even with Christmas rapidly approaching, Sullivan Central’s girls basketball team wasn’t in the giving mood Tuesday night.

The Lady Cougars held University High scoreless for nearly 13 minutes to start the game, and rolled to a 33-point halftime lead. The final score was 69-8 in a non-conference game at Brooks Gym.

Class AA Central improved to 9-0 on the season while Class A University High slipped to 0-6.


UH didn’t get a lot of quality chances as Central rolled out to a 21-0 lead at the end of the first period. It was more of the same in the second quarter as the Lady Cougars built a 31-0 lead.

UH finally got on the board with a nice 3-point swish from Ryleigh Owens with just over three minutes left before halftime. That was all UH could manage as Central took a 36-6 edge into the break.

“We went through spurts where we kind of got sloppy,” said Central head coach Kristi Walling. “But we told them that no matter what the scoreboard says we still have to play hard and do the things we’re trying to accomplish and get better at.”


Mary McClellan led the way for Central with 13 points. Emma Niebruegge added 12 points while Abbey Crawford totaled 11. Central had five different players connect from 3-point land.

For University High, Elideth Lopez and Ryleigh Owens each knocked one down from trey country.


Walling said her team is doing things right at the start of the season.

“I think we’re playing really good as a team,” Walling said. “We’ve got a lot of kids contributing this year, offensively and defensively. I still think we need to work on our defense and boxing out and rebounding. That’s something we’ve been practicing a lot and can definitely get better at.”