The Independence Tigers overcame a 16-point deficit on their way to a 69-63 victory over the Tuscarora Huskies on opening night of the 2020-2021 varsity boys' basketball season Monday in Ashburn.
"It was a really good basketball game," Independence head coach Corey Stitzel said. "I thought our kids had enough grit, toughness and fight to come out with a win. We lost to Tuscarora twice last year, at the buzzer basically both times. For us to come around in year two and pull out a close win shows the maturity of this young group."
Tuscarora drained four 3-pointers in the opening quarter to build a 21-10 lead heading into the second quarter. The Huskies' advantage grew to 32-16 with 5:44 left in the half before the host Tigers stormed back.
Independence closed the second quarter on a 15-0 run to trim a 16-point deficit to 32-31 at halftime.
"It was huge," Stitzel said of his team's surge. "Tuscarora came out and shot the ball terrific ... they got up 32-16 and then our 15-0 run really changed the game."
The lead changed hands throughout the third quarter. After the Huskies knocked down 3-pointers on consecutive trips down the court to take a 43-38 lead, the Tigers closed the quarter on a 6-0 run to lead 50-49 heading to the fourth quarter.
Tuscarora regained the lead on junior guard Richard Rogers' 3-pointer to open the fourth. Independence responded with a 12-4 surge to gain a 62-56 advantage it would not relinquish. Sophomore guard Wesley Williams turned a steal into a layup in the final minute of play to close out a 69-63 victory.
Williams and junior guard Jack Gagen each finished with 17 points for the Tigers. The backcourt duo also combined for 15 assists. Freshman forward Gabriel Coulthurst scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in his varsity debut, while senior forward Griffin Patterson also pulled down 11 rebounds.
Rogers paced the Huskies with a game-high 21 points, while senior Jack Clark produced an impressive stat line of 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Junior Sonny Mannino added 11 points and 13 rebounds, and sophomore Gavin O'Malley grabbed 14 rebounds.
The game was one of nine varsity basketball contests played throughout Loudoun County on Monday night, with high school sports returning to game action following a nine-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Players, coaches and officials wore masks, and the bench areas were spread out to allow for social distancing. Spectators were not permitted inside the gymnasium.
"I don't think enough is being made about the mental health of kids right now," Stitzel said. "Kids need structure, kids need activities, kids need something to look forward to. Kudos to everyone out there who made this happen and allowed us to play a basketball game."
"It's just tremendous for these kids that every day they can go to practice, they can put on an uniform and play," Stitzel continued. "Obviously, we are in a global pandemic. But I think people are forgetting about what this is doing to America's youth. At least for tonight, they had the normalcy of playing the game they love."