East Wilkes Head Boys Basketball Coach Wes Rousseau did his best to downplay the personal significance of the Cardinals’ 55-46 win over Ashe County on Monday night in Ronda.
But as a former player and coach for the Huskies, it was tough for the Cardinals’ second-year head man not to get caught up in the emotion of defeating his alma mater for the first time.
“We talk about that every game means the same and every game is of the same importance and that’s what we preach,” said Rousseau. “But obviously, I’d be being disingenuous if I said it doesn’t mean just a little bit more coming from where I’m from because I love those guys and I respect those guys so much.”
Trey Lambert led all scorers with 24 points and put East Wilkes up 15-12 with a layup off a nice assist from Ledger Blackburn.
The Cardinals led 25-19 early in the third quarter following a pair of baskets from Lee Billings but Huskies battled back with a big run.
Ashe’s 14-0 run, highlighted by a 3-point play from Colby Greer, helped the Huskies retake the lead 38-31 after three quarters.
That’s when Lambert and Dylan Ward put the game on their shoulders.
Lambert converted a 3-pointer and a layup in the first 40 seconds of the fourth quarter.
The senior then gave the home team the lead for good, making a 3-pointer while being fouled. He would miss the subsequent free throw.
“We started knocking down shots a little bit in the fourth quarter when we made the run but a big part of it was just defensive intensity,” said Rousseau.
The Cardinals’ lead continued to grow, extending it to eight at 48-40 with 3:44 to play as Ward, who scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, knocked down a 3-pointer. Lambert then added a tough runner in the lane.
East led 51-41 after a pair of Ward free throws following a technical foul with 1:31 to play.
As a team, the Cardinals finished 14-of-23 from the free-throw line (7-of-12 in the fourth).
“We were able to turn them over and those turnovers led to some easy layups and easy looks,” said Rousseau. “And then we did what we needed to do to hold onto the lead as time went on — we didn’t hit all of our free throws, but we hit them when it mattered — and our defense in the fourth quarter was pretty exceptional.”
Nate Lee paced Ashe County with 11 points and Greer added nine.
Cardinals score senior night win over Alleghany
East Wilkes picked up its second MVAC win in less than 24 hours with a 55-47 victory over Alleghany on Tuesday night in Sparta.
The Cardinals, who improved to 3-9 in Mountain Valley Athletic Conference play (6-14 overall), won its second league game in less than 24 hours, following up Monday’s win against Ashe County. It also avenged an 11-point defeat to the Trojans in Sparta back on Jan. 10.
“The thing that we’ve been searching for all year has been that ability to win a game when it is close because we’ve been in so many close games,” said Rousseau. “To find that ability to step up and make the plays that need to be made to learn how to win, I think we’ve done that over the course of the last couple of nights.”
East Wilkes led nearly the entire game with the exception of the first 2:30 of the opening quarter. That deficit was quickly erased and the Cardinals led 17-8 after one quarter, thanks to a trio of 3-pointers from Huston Hall.
One of the six seniors recognized before the game, Hall was the Cardinals’ co-leading scorer (along with Lambert, another fellow senior) with 17 points.
“Any time that you’ve got somebody like Huston who comes out firing on all cylinders and hit three 3s, it helps,” said Rousseau. “The chemistry with that group of seniors who started today is so good. They came out and their plus-minus on the entire night was probably between plus 12-to-15 and that’s not our normal starting rotation (seniors Hall, Lambert, Caeden Howell, Noah Parks and Blaine Wagoner all started Tuesday night).
“They gave us a big lead starting, and then came back in the third quarter and extended that lead yet again, so, I can’t be happier for that group of six seniors (which also includes Lee Billings) that I have right now.”
Holding a three-point lead at halftime, the Cardinals used a quick 7-0 run to push the lead to double digits on a layup from Lambert, following a nice assist from Howell.
The Trojans got as close as 38-35 early in the fourth but a Ward lay-up and a trey from Lambert pushed the lead to nine (46-37).
Ward added nine points for East Wilkes, which will make the short trek down N.C. 268 to Elkin tonight.
Jared Foley led Alleghany with a game-high 22 points and Blake Murphy added 10.
Note: Alleghany came back to win the JV game 38-36 behind a team-high eight points from Mitchell Rea. Braxton Long led the Cardinals (8-10, 5-7) with 16 points and Kamen Smith added 10.