CLAREMONT — Newton-Conover took advantage of a slow start by the Red Devils’ hosts and kept Bunker Hill at bay for a 67-50 win on opening night of the high school boys basketball season.
“I was pleased,” said Newton-Conover coach Matt Wilkinson, noting the uncertainty he felt at taking on the Bears with a new head coach. “I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wasn’t sure what to expect from our kids.”
What Wilkinson and the Red Devils (1-0) got were solid performances up and down the lineup. Bunker Hill managed just one lead, 2-0, as Newton-Conover took control early in the opening period and never surrendered the lead.
“They’re very talented and very well-coached. They do a lot of things right,” said Bunker Hill coach Dylan Johnson of the Red Devils. “We had a lot of opportunities. I put it on me. We didn’t capitalize.”
Newton-Conover took a 13-6 first-quarter lead and extended that to double digits most of the second quarter behind Mathew Martinez and Drew Danner. Danner cashed in on a fast break on a nice feed from Martinez to up the Red Devils’ lead to 24-12.
Bunker Hill (0-1) fought back and got within six, 24-18, on a triple by Ethan Hildebran with 3:15 left before the half. But a step-back 3-pointer by Martinez with time running out pushed Newton-Conover’s halftime lead to 10, 33-23.
“I thought we played hard,” Johnson said. “We didn’t give up.”
“The first half I thought they outhustled us, especially on the boards. We had built a little bit of a lead and they crawled back in the game just by outworking us,” Wilkinson added. “I challenged the kids at halftime.”
Wilkinson noted his team accepted the challenge at the defensive end which resulted in “five or six stops in a row” as the Red Devils boosted their advantage to 39-26 midway through the third period and 45-33 by its end.
“I thought we did a good job of getting it down low in the second half,” Wilkinson said. “We did a good job of finishing it out.”
Martinez and Jaheim McCathern provided the bulk of the Newton-Conover offense coming out of the locker room. Martinez led all scorers with 21 points and McCathern had 10. Maverick Davis was also in double figures for the Red Devils with 14.
“I felt like if we went zone, they would just pound us in the post — pound us, pound us, pound us,” Johnson said of his decision to play man-to-man defense. “We don’t move well in the zone.”
Bunker Hill did get its deficit to single digits in the fourth quarter on a 3 from Hildebran and a drive on a fast break opportunity by Johnathan White that made it 48-41. But the Red Devils responded with a nine-point run of their own to end all doubt about the outcome.
“We did (attack). That’s something we’ve talked about the entire offseason,” Wilkinson said. “We’ve got some good size and good length, even on the perimeter. That’s something we want to take advantage of.”
White led the Bears with 12 points and Carson Sigmon had 11.
“We had spurts, the ball just didn’t go in the hole,” Johnson said. “We got good shots, we got a lot of good shots.”
Newton-Conover’s next game is at 4 p.m. on Nov. 30 against Brevard at UNC Asheville’s Kimmel Arena. Bunker Hill will be in action tonight at St. Stephens.
Newton-Conover 64, Bunker Hill 59
Two teams with high expectations took it down to the final minute before the Red Devils finally dispatched the Bears.
“The last two years it’s been tough to come to Bunker Hill,” said Newton-Conover coach Sylvia White. “We’re just excited to get out of here with a win.”
The Bears (0-1) took advantage of a rough start by the Red Devils and raced out to a 7-0 lead. Newton-Conover struggled early with 11 first-quarter turnovers, but settled down and took care of the ball much better over the final three quarters.
“We’re better right now than we probably were midseason (last year) with our guard play,” White said. “I was pleased with our guard play. We were aggressive and we were pressing the ball. Our guards have to get into the offense a little bit more and make some better decisions on the passes.”
Camryn Bryant and Olivia Ellis provided the early spark for the Bears. But back-to-back baskets by Jahlea Peters, one of them a 3, put Newton-Conover (1-0) in front late in the opening quarter and a basket by Chyna Cornwell made it a seven-point run for the Red Devils, who led 19-14 after one quarter.
A six-point run by the Bears right before the half kept it close at the break, 34-30, in favor of Newton-Conover.
“I thought we did a good job in the first half and a not-so-good job in the second half,” Bunker Hill coach Lee Swanson said about his team rebounding with the taller Red Devils. “You look at our keys to the game: rebounding, pace, attack. Free throws and layups — boy we missed a boat load of them. The good news is we got a lot of good looks. We’ll fix it, we’ll get better.”
Cornwell picked up her fourth foul in the first minute of the third quarter. She went to the bench and stayed there until less than six minutes remained in the contest. But Emma Fox came in and provided a spark off the bench. Fox scored all 10 of her points in the second half, mostly by crashing the offensive glass.
“Emma’s a sophomore and she doesn’t realize how good she can be,” White said. “She’s just got a world of potential. If I can ignite that fire in her all the time, she’s amazing.”
The Bears reclaimed the lead on a pair of free throws by Bryant, and led 41-38 when she knocked down two more charity tosses. Newton-Conover used the free-throw line to tie the score and then Fox scored back-to-back baskets — both on offensive rebounds — to put Newton-Conover in front, 45-41, after three quarters.
“I thought the real turning point was we were going to attack and got Chyna in foul trouble,” Swanson said, noting a squandered opportunity to take control for good. “I kind of felt when we got her out, we just breathed a sigh of relief she wasn’t in there.”
Even with Cornwell on the bench to begin the final quarter, the Red Devils extended their lead to 51-43. Although Bunker Hill got within two points, 61-59, with less than a minute to play on four straight free throws by Addison Wray. However, Aalia Walton sealed the victory for Newton-Conover with three free throws.
White talked about the play of her bench when some of her starters were saddled with early fouls.
“Sometimes that’s the best thing that can happen. You learn to move your feet and not your hands,” White said. “We had some kids come off the bench tonight and play some quality minutes. They’re the ones that pushed the lead out for us.”
Cornwell led Newton-Conover with 17 points in spite of spending more than a quarter on the bench in foul trouble and eventually fouling out. Walton backed that up with 13 points and Fox had 10.
For Bunker Hill, Wray led the way with 14 points, Faith Isenhour had 13 and Madison Stotts had 12.
Newton-Conover will play tonight at Hopewell and Bunker Hill will be at St. Stephens.