HILLSVILLE – The 2021-22 high school basketball season got off to a rousing start Tuesday night for the Pulaski County Cougars who opened with a 63-48 non-conference road win over Carroll County.
The Cougars, led by third-year head coach Tyler Cannoy, came out at the opening tip fired up with an aggressive defense that gave the homestanding Cavaliers fits most of the game.
“Pulaski came in here and were definitely more fired up than we were,” said Carroll head coach Anthony Barnes. “They definitely disrupted our offense. They were very intense right from the tip, and we weren’t. I felt like we never could get in the set we wanted to get in because of their intensity.”
Senior JJ Gulley opened the season’s scoring for the Cougars, hitting a three-pointer two minutes into the game.
After a jumper by Carroll’s Brayden Smoot, Lane Nester banked in a basket followed by a layup by Josh Bourne and the Cougars were up 7-2.
Bourne would lead the Cougars in scoring with 22 on the night, with Gulley and Nester adding 15 each.
The three-some closed out the first quarter scoring with Gulley hitting another three-pointer from the left side giving Pulaski County a 15-6 lead into the second.
Bourne, Gulley and Nester built the Cougars’ lead to 25-11 before Khalib Horton hit a jumper and Tyler Sutherland scored on a putback to build the score to 29-19.
Carroll would cut the Cougars’ lead to only eight at 29-21 on two Bryce Smoot free-throws. But the Cougars closed the half strong on a 7-0 run, with Nester hitting two buckets, a layup by Bourne and a Kyle O’Neal free-throw to give Pulaski County a 36-21 lead at halftime.
The teams battled evenly in the third, with the Cougars winning the quarter, 11-9. Bourne hit two buckets – one a three-pointer – plus two free-throws. Nester added a layup and Peyton McDaniel added a bucket to keep Pulaski County ahead by double-digits.
Carroll County actually won the fourth quarter, 18-16, but Pulaski County hit 8 of 10 from the charity stripe down the stretch to put the game away.
“I think we played well on the defensive end. Offensively we’ve still got to get a lot better,” said Cannoy. “They’re (Carroll) really good defensively against some of the things we had. We don’t have a real inside presence right now. But defensively I felt like we really played well and helped our offense out.
“We’ve just got to get better every day. We’ve got a really good group of seniors and juniors who have really committed a lot to this.
“I thought they (Carroll) played really well. They did some things that we struggled to take away in the beginning and then finally figured it out. I couldn’t be more proud of our guys,” Cannoy added.
About his team’s aggressiveness on defense, Cannoy said it is a necessity because of the Cougars’ lack of size.
“We’re smaller than what we’re going to see across the region so we have to play hard defensively and we really have to get after people and speed the game up a little bit. I think that’s our strength and we’ve got to be able to do that,” he said.
Barnes said he saw some good things out of his team, even with the loss.
“I thought we handled the boards well, we only gave up four second shots, but Pulaski County’s intensity never went away. They did an excellent job of keeping the level high and we didn’t,” Barnes said.
“We won the fourth and cut it to eight at one point in the game, but there again it came down to mistakes. We had 11 turnovers and you can’t turn the ball over.
“We’re young in the front court, but still you’ve got to be able to handle pressure. I tell them all the time, don’t be pressured – apply pressure. Tonight, Pulaski applied the pressure to us.
“I tell the guys all the time, you can’t come in half-cocked. You got to be ready right from the get-go. And this being our house, I think tonight they (Cougars) came in and smacked us in the mouth and we weren’t quite ready,” Barnes said.
Behind Bourne, Gulley and Nester, McDaniel had 5 for the Cougars followed by Horton, O’Neal and Sutherland with 2 each.
For Carroll County, Elijah Cox led with 19 while Davis Reitzel added 14. Brogan Phillips added 6 followed by Bryce Smoot with 5, Brayden Smoot and Mario Campbell with 2 each.
Next up for the Cougars will be Floyd County at home on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in another non-conference game.
In Tuesday’s junior varsity action, Pulaski County hammered Carroll, 68-32.
By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot