WLOS – Words cannot adequately describe what happened Tuesday night at North Buncombe High School. A raucous gymnasium offered the soundtrack to a superstar showdown that ended with a three-pointer with under ten seconds left deciding the game between the Blackhawks and the Tuscola Mountaineers. Two of the best players in Western North Carolina, one steady as a block of ice and the other driven by an internal fire so hot it’s a wonder his jersey wasn’t singed, combined for 53 first half points and almost 90 by the time the clock hit zero. The difference was an under-the-radar scoring blur that flew high when it mattered most that gave Tuscola the 88-85 victory.
The game started at a frenetic pace, with Ren Dyer slashing his way to 11 first quarter points. The intensity in his eyes and guttural yells was countered with the poker face calm of Landon Henley who showed off his bullish ballet skills in registering 21 points in the frame to lead his Mountaineers to a 29-25 lead after one quarter.
The action slowed a bit in the second eight minutes, but Dyer was lethal even then. In going 8-for-8 from the charity stripe, he added sixteen more points to draw the Blackhawks within one at halftime. With two quarters to go, the scoreboard read 45-44 and the scorebook showed Henley with 26 and Dyer with 27.
Coming out of the locker room, Henley handed his cape over to Max Rogers. Often overlooked in conversations about the best players in the Western Mountain Athletic Conference, Rogers is known to those who play in the league as a scoring threat; however, any player would disappear in the giant shadow cast by Henley, Tuscola’s all-time scoring leader. The 6’2 junior guard with the mop of curly hair stepped into the limelight as soon as the clock began ticking in the third quarter. Scoring on drives to the hoop and on shots from distance, Rogers tallied 10 in the stanza. He helped Tuscola create some space with a 69-56 advantage as Dyer sat much of the quarter.
Tuscola would build a lead as high as fifteen, but there isn’t a speck of quit in Dyer. He heated up again, dropping floaters and slicing to the rack for lay-ups en route to a 20-point frame that would tie the game up at 85. Rogers would respond with 12, but it was a lanky sophomore guard that would provide the deciding points. With the game knotted up, Nate Brafford took a feed in the left corner and hoisted up a three-pointer. As the ball passed the clock in the air, time ticked down to the 10-second mark. The ball snapped the strings as the visitors side erupted. Dyer would go the length of the floor for a long attempt at the buzzer, but it was short and to the right.
When the dust settled Tuscola had an 88-85 win, Dyer had 53 points, Henley showed 36, and Rogers’ second-half blitz left him with 26.
“It’s all these guys right here that did that,” Henley motioned towards his bench when asked about his performance. “It’s not me, it’s not him [Dyer], it’s not the fans. It’s everybody that comes around here and comes in every day and pushes me hard in practice and pushes are team harder in practice. It just feels fantastic man, number one baby! Great job Tuscola! Go Mountaineers.”
For the moment, Tuscola holds a half game edge on North Buncombe and Asheville for first place in the WMAC. The Mountaineers have three remaining games: at West Henderson, home against T.C. Roberson, and at Erwin. North Buncombe has two remaining contests, hosting A.C. Reynolds and on the road at Asheville in a game that could decide the conference regular season champion.
After the game the teams circled together and recited The Lord’s Prayer. It provided a stark contrast to the mayhem that had just concluded. Instead on a period, it felt like a comma; this game is over, but the story between these two may have another page waiting to be written.