Chattanooga Christian’s best shooter, Drew Thomas, was down and out with an injured hand.
Tucker Youngblood got up from his sick bed and sparked the Chargers to a gutsy, 57-50, victory over visiting Marion County on Thursday night at Chattanooga Christian School.
Youngblood, a 5-foot-9-inch guard, ignited an explosive surge for the Chargers (5-11), who stretched a one-point, first-quarter lead into a 40-24 advantage with a 25-5 run that stretched into the third quarter.
Youngblood got a last-second tap-in to end the first quarter and then hit four 3s in the second period that spurred the Chargers to a 29-24 halftime lead.
The sharp-shooting guard finished with a game-high 24 points and had all six of Chattanooga Christian’s 3-pointers. After his tap-in, Youngblood started the second quarter with a 3 from the left corner for the Chargers’ one-point lead.
Marion County scored five straight points for a 19-15 edge.
The Chargers’ post players – 6-7 Josh Fikkert and 6-6 Clark Marshall – got a power layup and a putback, respectively, to tie the game at 19-all. Marion’s Josh Harveston drilled a 3 and the Warriors were up, 22-19 with 7:03 left in the second quarter.
Youngblood then nailed three successive 3s from the right wing, Wes Moore added a free throw and Chattanooga Christian went to the locker room with a seven-point lead at halftime.
“I was pretty close to not playing because I’ve got the crud,” said Youngblood. “My dad (Keith) convinced me to play around 3 o’clock. “I’m not feeling much better, but I really can’t compare this to anything. It feels awesome. I felt like since Drew was out somebody had to step up and hit some shots.”
Thomas, a senior guard, suffered the hand injury during a Christmas tournament in Cherokee, N.C., and did not play against the Warriors (1-11).
Youngblood picked up the shooting slack.
“When Tucker started knocking down those 3s in the first half, that was big,” Chargers coach Jim Arnold said. “Drew is our best shooter. Tucker can shoot it, but he doesn’t normally take the volume of 3s that he took tonight. Drew’s had games where he knocked down six or seven 3s and Tucker hit six of them tonight. He was hot.
“He’s been under the weather the last three days. He called and said he wanted to come out and see what he could do. He didn’t have a fever. I’m glad he came out.”
The Chargers, who suffered through a seven-game losing streak from Nov. 27 to Dec. 10 (six losses were by eight or fewer points and one was a 37-point blowout at East Hamilton), outscored the Warriors, 10-0, starting the third quarter and built a 40-24 lead. They appeared on the verge of blowing the Warriors out of the gym.
Marion County coach Chuck Keef and his players had other ideas.
Keef switched to a zone defense and that slowed Chattanooga Christian’s assault. At nearly the same time, Marion’s junior guard Preston Pickett started picking apart the Chargers’ defense.
“I told our guys to keep plugging, keep taking shots,” Keef said. “We were getting open looks at the rim and sooner or later the shots were going to start falling.”
Pickett made two straight 3s and added two free throws off a baseline drive when Youngblood fouled him and the Warriors were within 44-38 after a 14-4 run.
“We tried to change up some things defensively,” Keef said. “The boys are a scrappy bunch. They like to get after it and run the floor. And (Preston) can shoot the ball pretty good when he gets on a roll like that.”
Arnold thought Keef’s decision to use the zone definitely affected his players.
“That changed the pace of the game and it stayed nip-and-tuck the rest of the time,” Arnold said.
Following Pickett’s charge – he finished with 23 points, including four 3s – Chattanooga Christian got a free throw by Fikkert and another 3 by Youngblood to stretch the lead to 48-38 with 4:13 remaining.
Pickett matched Pickett’s 3.
Fikkert, who had 11 points, followed Marshall’s miss with a putback – it was the team’s last field goal of the game – and the Chargers were up 50-41, with 3:26 left.
Chattanooga Christian made 8-of-15 free throws in the final 5:08, but dropped in 7-of-12 in the last 3:11 of the game. Marion County made four buckets in the final 2:18, but the Chargers’ free-throw efficiency down the stretch was the difference.
“(Marion County) made some big shots, some tough ones,” Arnold said. “We missed some foul shots and it’s like turnovers and you get empty possessions. In the last five or six minutes I don’t think we turned it over very much and started to knock down a few of those foul shots and make a couple of (defensive) stops.”
Marshall finished with 12 points for the Chargers.
Pickett was the only Warrior in double figures.
“They had a 16-point lead at one point and we fought back and got back into it,” Keef said. “Normally we would have folded by then. Unfortunately, we got in some foul trouble and they knocked down free throws at the end.”
Chattanooga Christian girls 51, Marion County 22: The Lady Chargers (8-8) outscored the Lady Warriors, 12-0, to take a 12-3 lead and never looked back. They were up, 26-17, at halftime and held Marion County to five second-half points.
Allison Hughes and Joanna Smith each scored 10 points for Chattanooga Christian. Hannah Henry added nine points and Clara Dirkse had eight.
Julie Nunley paced one-win Marion County with six points.
Marion County 5 12 3 2 – 22
Chattanooga Christian 12 14 20 5 – 51
Marion County (22) – Towery 5, Brooks 5, Vandergriff 3, Nunley 6, Gibson 1, Buchannon 2.
Chattanooga Christian (51) – Allison Hughes 10, Delashmitt 2, Sabourin 1, Davis, Loyal 6, Henry 9, Joanna Smith 10, Click 2, Dirkse 8, Royer 3.
3-Point Goals: Marion County 2 (Brooks, Vandergriff); Chattanooga Christian none.
Marion County 14 10 6 20 – 50
Chattanooga Christian 12 17 13 15 – 57
Marion County (50) – Brooks 2, Preston Pickett 23, Brown 5, Vannatta 8, J.Harveston 5, M.Harveston 3, Walters 4, No. 40 2.
Chattanooga Christian (xx) – Tucker Youngblood 24, Moore 3, Matthews 2, Clark Marshall 12, Jones 1, Conrady 2, Card, Aldridge 2, Fikkert 11.
3-Point Goals: Marion County 6 (Pickett 4, Brown, J.Harveston); Chattanooga Christian 6 (Youngblood 6).
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com