SWEETWATER — McMinn Central just needed one more push to get a long-awaited win over Sweetwater. It never came.
With the Chargers trailing 51-49, Novice Cox got a good look at a potentially tying floater that sailed wide of the basket, resulting in a heartbreaking loss after almost rallying from an 11-point deficit with 3:55 left Tuesday at Sweetwater High School.
In the end, Central (5-9, 1-2 District 3-2A) saw its ongoing losing streak to the Wildcats extend to nine games. The Chargers were still left wanting for their first win over Sweetwater since the 2018 district tournament championship game, thanks in part to a massive rebounding advantage for the Wildcats.
“It’s their physicality, and if they can do it, it’s good for them, and if they get in a game where they can’t do it, it’s not going to be good for them,” said Central coach Daniel Curtis. “They’re just physical, they body you up every possession, and they board the basketball and put a butt on you every possession, and that’s who they are and that’s what they do. We’ve got to match that physicality, and we did, but not all night, and you’ve got to do it all night if you want to be successful.”
The Chargers’ last lead was 9-7 in the first quarter before Sweetwater (9-4, 3-0) ended the period on a 7-0 run. Central got within 18-17 in the second period, but the Wildcats scored six straight points, and the Chargers trailed 24-19 at halftime.
Gabe Masingale, who led Central with 15 points, started the Chargers’ second half with a three-point play, and Central got within a point three times in the third quarter before Sweetwater again ran off five straight points and had the Chargers chasing again, down 37-32 entering the fourth quarter.
Another 7-0 Sweetwater run left Central with its largest deficit, 48-37, with just under four minutes left. But the Chargers then forced three turnovers from the Wildcats, and Darius Carden scored six straight points as part of an 8-0 run that brought Central within 48-45 with 1:14 remaining — despite two players, including Masingale, having fouled out.
Two Jyrel Arnwine free throws in a 1-and-1 with 37 seconds left and Carden’s bucket off an inbounds play brought Central within 51-49. The Chargers forced a turnover on the Sweetwater inbound pass after Carden’s basket, giving them a chance at a tying or winning shot, but it was off the mark.
“We got in foul trouble late,” Curtis said. “We didn’t execute the offense the way we wanted to. Instead of running the offense looking to attack, we were just passive. We were just not doing what we needed to do. I felt like we guarded them pretty well, I felt like our defense was there.”
Carden was Central’s only other double-figure scorer with 13 points. For Sweetwater, Jayce Upton led with 15 points to match Masingale for the game high, and Chris Alford scored 12 and Dalen Gibby 11.
Central is back in action at roughly 7:30 p.m. Thursday, after the conclusion of the girls’ game, at home against Loudon, continuing district play.