And thanks to Peyton Sams, Central (12-0) is still unbeaten.
A three-year starter with ample experience, Sams stepped up like no one else, scoring 16 points and hitting the first of two foul shots with 2.5 seconds remaining to lift the Lady Cougars to a 40-39 nonconference win over D-B.
A senior wing who swished three 3-point jumpers, the 5-foot-6 Sams was money from the perimeter all evening as the Lady Indians (10-2) did what they could defensively to neutralize 6-2 Cougars post Abbey Crawford on the inside.
“You’ve got to pick your poison,” D-B coach Bill Francis said.
View Cheryl Gray’s 📸📸 from Tuesday’s games
And then there was the game-winning free throw.
“Peyton’s the type of kid you want at the line in that kind of situation,” said ecstatic Central coach Kristi Walling. “We had kids step up when needed.
“This is awesome, especially for our seniors, who have really been wanting this one. This is a statement of where we’re at right now and I’m very excited with how we played and how this one ended up.”
Central led most of the game, but the Lady Cougars were fortunate to be tied at 39 after the Lady Indians missed three shots from close range over the final half-minute.
Central worked to get to the hoop and did so twice in the final eight seconds but couldn’t convert. Sams grabbed the Lady Cougars’ second offensive board of the sequence and was fouled on a follow-up attempt.
“It was going through my mind to be calm,” Sams said of her two free throws. “I was saying to myself, ‘You’ve got this.’ I was glad to have two shots at it.
“I’m so glad we could get this win. This is huge.”
Sams was the game’s only player to score in double figures.
Down 10-6 after one period, Central recovered in the second quarter by knocking down 3s and went on to grab a 22-16 edge at halftime.
D-B got back to within 32-31 by the end of three quarters and led by a point early in the fourth, but the Tribe did not make plays down the stretch.
“I hate to lose more than anybody,” Francis said. “But nobody needs to hang their heads. I saw enough good things out there against a really good team to see that we’re on the verge of getting to where we need to be. You can see light bulbs flickering with these kids.
“This game was a good benchmark for both teams.”
D-B BOYS BACK IN WIN COLUMN
Dobyns-Bennett’s boys got back to their winning ways, overcoming an alarming halftime deficit to claim a 65-51 victory.
The Tribe, coming off home-floor losses to Gate City and Greeneville, trailed the inspired Cougars by a 34-29 count at intermission before Abiah Releford and Malachi Hale both got it going in the second half.
The pair combined to hit three 3-point jumpers in the third quarter, pushing D-B (5-4) to a 47-41 edge with eight minutes to play. Both finished with 23 points.
Joltin Harrison, just a freshman, scored 13 of his team-high 15 points to help the Cougars (2-9) to their halftime advantage.
Bryson Crabtree and Ty Barb both scored 10 points for Central, which was outscored by a 36-19 margin over the last two periods.