Late struggles prove costly for Central
If one was to watch the first four minutes of R-S Central's game with Kings Mountain Wednesday night they would think it was going to be a cakewalk for the Hilltoppers, but in the end, the Mountaineers persevered for a 65-59 victory on the road.
"I think we started out well and got complacent," Central head coach Greg Wright said after the defeat. "We didn't run a very good offense tonight and resorted to a 'playground' type of basketball tonight. I think tonight we learned a lesson."
Central (5-3) established themselves early with an 8-0 run to start the game.
Kings Mountain (3-4) eventually found a groove but Rashaun Whiteside drained an NBA-range three-pointer at the buzzer that put Central on top 13-6 at the end of the first quarter.
After a handful of Central turnovers and a couple timely buckets, Kings Mountain chipped away at their deficit to come within three with two minutes left in the first half, 24-21.
Whitesides and Jaylen Hollis restored some dominance under the basket for the Hilltoppers in the final minutes of the half and Central trotted into the half with a 31-26 lead.
Out of the half the Hilltoppers continued their pesky defense and converted two steals into four easy points on the offensive end.
However, Kings Mountain hit a hot streak on their end of the floor for nine quick points to cut the Central lead to tie the game at 35-35.
Both teams traded buckets but Kings Mountain claimed their first lead of the game, 41-39, after a questionable call sent them to the line for the go-ahead free throws.
Despite the efforts of Whitesides and Jay Blanton, Kings Mountain held the advantage and the third quarter ended with the Hilltoppers trailing 46-44.
The fourth quarter was littered with missed chances for Central.
It seemed like every missed layup for Central turned into two points for the Mountaineers on their end of the floor.
"We missed too many easy shots when we still had the lead that could have built out momentum," Wright said. "We just didn't convert and you have to give Kings Mountain credit."
With just 1:05 left, Kings Mountain owned a five-point lead.
Whitesides cut the lead to three with 50 seconds remaining and the press defense of Central forced Kings Mountain into a timeout to save their possession with 40 seconds left in the game.
Kings Mountain nurtured the lead enough for the rest of the with free throws and a breakaway dunk to head back east with the 65-59 victory.
Whitesides led Central with 24 points and nine rebound while Blanton added 11 popints, six assists and six steals.
"Kings Mountain played harder and with more intensity than we did tonight," Wright said. "We just weren't here to play tonight and that's my fault."
The Hilltoppers return to the hardwood Friday, Dec. 14 when Asheville High comes to The Palace. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. in Rutherfordton.