TAZEWELL, Va. — Foul was fair for the Bulldogs.
Nine straight pressure-packed fourth quarter free throws proved crucial as Tazewell (3-3) escaped with a 72-70 non-district win over talented Ft. Chiswell Monday.
However, the game within the game was played in the paint between two giant-sized juniors as the Pioneers’ rugged 6-6 Coleman Thomas battled with 6-5 Dog star Noah Walker.
Walker was his usual incredible self with 24 points, 20 rebounds, 8 blocked shots, and 2 steals while Coleman poured in 23 and pulled down 14 rebounds in the season opener for the Pioneers, who advanced to the state single-A semifinals last season.
“We played hard — Coleman is a load inside. I know he weighs about 290 and he can fill the lane,” said Walker. “My teammates played their hearts out and I think we have turned the corner now.”
In the beginning, Ft. Chiswell leaned on Thomas, who worked his way inside for 10 points and 6 rebounds in the first half while Desmond Perry and Levi Mooney ignited the outside game for the Pioneers, whose inability to hit medium range jumpers was a bonus for the Bulldogs.
Walker and the Jordan brothers, Jalen and Juwan, took turns establishing turf in the second period and Tazewell led by four points in the final minute before the break, 32-28.
Breaking through the Ft. Chiswell pressure, the Dogs nched to a 7-point advantage, at 46-39, with 3:40 left in the third stanza.
The biggest play of the third quarter was Walker’s power slam dunk at the buzzer as he grabbed an offensive rebound and soared above the iron to get the classic two.
Jerod Hovencamp hit a couple of big plays for the visitors, who battled back with quick hands, several inside steals, and finally tied the score at 62-all on Dylan Hale’s inside bucket with less than four minutes left in the game.
There was no daylight between the teams in the final stages but Tazewell’s ability to finally put together a string of foul shots proved to be decisive.
“We didn’t do a bad job, considering this is our first game — on the road — and playing an exceptionally athletic team,” observed FCHS coach Derrick Jackson.
“Losing Daniel (Hemm) with fouls hurt, and then Tazewell got hot at the line in the end and we didn’t keep pace. I’m pleased with the way my guys played though. We had three new starters out there tonight.”
Brett Mabry had a solid night for Ft. Chiswell, netting 12 ponts, and Hovencamp added 9 to support Thomas.
Colin Hancock was steady on the floor, hit three treys, and was 7 for 9 at the line in a sizzling effort for Tazewell with 18 points. Jalen Jordan notched 11 for the Dogs, and Tanner Catron hit two three-pointers.
A major second-half assist came from determined Tazewell coach Lee Walker.
Walker challenged his team in the third quarter, noting, “We are not backing off, we are going to keep coming at them, keep challenging, keep moving the ball. I meant for us to attack the basket. We did, we made some shots, and we won.
“I’m proud of the players for going out and getting this win tonight against a very good Ft. Chiswell team.”
Tazewell hosts Grundy tonight with the girls game beginning at 6 p.m.
At Tazewell Middle School
FORT CHISWELL (0-1)
Levi Mooney 3, Daniel Hemm 4, Desmond Perry 7, Dylan Hale 6, Coleman Thomas 23, Chase Rathbone 3, Jerod Hovencamp 9, Joe Stoneman 3.
Jalen Jordan 11, Colin Hancock 18, Tanner Catron 6, Noah Walker 24, Christian Lewis 4, Juwan Jordan 6, Cody McCann 3, Jesse Mountain.
Fort Chiswell.....19 11 18 22 — 70
Tazewell............14 19 18 21 — 72
3-point goals — FC 4 (Mooney, Mabry, Hovencamp, Rathbone). TAZ 6 (Hancock 3, Catron 2, Ja. Jordan 1). Fouled out – FC, Hemm.