The win came despite a scary final 39 seconds for the Warriors (11-3, 4-0) during which they missed the front ends of three consecutive 1-and-1 free-throw attempts and had to withstand the bull’s-eye shooting of Union freshman Sean Cusano.
Trailing 62-59 down the stretch, Union had its chances to tie the game. But the Bears twice threw away the ball and missed a potential game-tying 3-point shot at the last second.
Central had solid games from Isaiah McAmis, who scored 27 points, and Elijah Hayes with 12 points.
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“Everybody’s giving us our best game,” said Central coach T.J. McAmis. “And Union gave us their best game. It was a great game. But when you’ve got the two best players around in Isaiah and Elijah, you pull these out. They had several big-time shots against a very physical defense and I’m proud of the way they led the team.”
The Warriors led 16-7 after one quarter and built a 31-16 lead with 2:59 to play in the second. But led by Cusano, who hit four of his nine 3-pointers and scored 11 points during the stretch, Union outscored Central 19-4 over the final three minutes of the half to tie the contest at 35.
Cusano finished with a game-high 31 points, matching his career high. Alex Rasnick added 18 points for the Bears (7-5, 1-3).
“I feel like we’re always in the game because our guys don’t give up,” Union coach Zack Moore said. “Defensively, we were pretty solid. I thought we made Isaiah and Hayes work for everything they got. But early on offensively, we were missing free throws, we were missing shots in the paint, we were making the wrong decision when we drove the ball.
“We king of got that straightened out and started hitting shots. It’s amazing. When the ball starts to go in the basket, everything else starts to flow.”
Central used a 15-3 run to open the second half with Isaiah McAmis acting as his team’s floor coach.
“There was a spell in the third quarter where we were mixing our zones on the fly and Isaiah was making the call,” Coach McAmis said. “That’s things you don’t see.”
The coach said the defensive play of Ben Brickey was also big for the Warriors in the win.
Union battled back to cut to within six points, 54-48, by the end of the third quarter and to 60-59 before a McAmis basket gave the Warriors a three-point cushion.
That was where it stayed as both teams made errors down the stretch.
Union is back in action Saturday in the FCA Hoops Classic. The Bears play Sullivan South at 6:30 p.m. at Sullivan East.
Central travels to Gate City on Tuesday for a Mountain 7 showdown with the Blue Devils. Both teams are undefeated in district play and tied atop the league standings.
“We’re excited about that one,” T.J. McAmis said. “We have some tough road games with Lee and Union and, of course, Gate City is tough, too. But we’re finishing most of our road games on this cycle. On the front end and will be at home on the back end.”
KEY QUARTER FOR LADY BEARS
Wise Central led 12-9 after the first quarter, but Union used a 16-1 run in the second period to build a 25-13 halftime advantage.
The Lady Bears’ lead was never in jeopardy in the second half on the way to a 47-30 Mountain 7 win.
Union (9-3, 2-2) was up 37-25 heading into the final quarter, and the Lady Bears outscored Central 10-5 in the fourth to secure the win.
Emili Brooks and Abby Slagle led Union with 10 points apiece in the low-scoring contest.
Central (7-5, 2-1) was led by Jill Sturgill’s seven points.
Union is back in action Saturday at Sullivan East. The Lady Bears face Sullivan South as part of the FCA Hoops Classic.
Wise Central is back in action Tuesday at Gate City.