KERNERSVILLE - Starmount’s first-year head coach Rocky Horton got a late Christmas present Friday afternoon.
The Rams knocked off 4A Parkland 68-62 in the 7th-place game of the Frank Spencer Holiday Classic Friday to give Horton his first career win as skipper. Starmount also found the win column for the first time this season, emphatically ending an 0-8 start to the year.
“Good to get the monkey off our back. Our guys played hard for four quarters and played the smartest they’ve played all year. And it turns out we scored the most points we’ve scored all year,” Horton explained. “Early on we had guys hit some big shots against their zone. Hit some three-pointers and then down the stretch, guys knocked down free throws.
“I’m proud of all 10 guys who were here. We’re just glad to see the fruits of their labor in practice,” he added.
Starmount came out slow, falling behind 8-0 in the opening three minutes of the game before finding its stroke.
The Rams then caught fire from behind the arc, knocking down 5-of-7 three-point attempts - including four by Gunner Cass. After a trey by Isaiah Billips, Cass sank back-to-back trifectas from the left corner to give Starmount its first lead of the game at 17-16.
In the second, the Rams used more of an inside game, scoring on four straight drives to the basket to open the quarter.
“We knew they were going to play a lot of zone and we knew we wanted to go inside-out,” Horton explained. “Our post players did a better job today of handling the ball and passing out of it and our guards hit shots. That’s huge for us because we haven’t been doing much of that this year.”
Starmount led by as much as seven in the first half after Josh Houser hit a contested layup to give the Rams a 32-25 lead with 2:55 left. But the Mustangs stormed back and hit a three in the final seconds to take a 40-38 lead into the locker room.
To open the third, Luke Shore connected on back-to-back treys to give put Starmount ahead for good at 48-45. The Rams answered every Parkland run and sank crucial free throws down the stretch.
Starmount hit 8-of-11 shots from the charity stripe in the final 3:23 to seal its first victory of the season, 68-62.
“It’s a huge confidence builder,” Horton said. “Losing our first eight games wasn’t fun. We told them that it’s not fun to lose and to remember the past two losses we’ve had. We wanted them to start out with energy from the get-go and have some anger about them and sustain that for four quarters.
“Playing with a lead today was something new for us and I thought they handled it well, especially when they were forced to foul us. And we hit our free throws,” he added.
Cass powered Starmount offensively, scoring a game-high 20 points on the afternoon, while Houser added nine points in the paint. Shore and Nathan Williams recorded seven points apiece as nine Rams scored in the game.
“Gunner had knee surgery at the beginning of the year and then has been battling some sickness, we’ve been waiting for him to get his legs back,” Horton explained. “He’s a good pure shooter and we want him to be looking for his shot. Being a junior, we’re looking for him to be a leader. He did a good job of leading by example today.”
After picking up the first win of the season, Horton said he’s ready for his team to build on the huge victory.
“We’ll build on this,” he said. “It was good to get the first one, and now that we got it, we know what it feels like to win now. I’m just proud of all of our guys who worked hard to get to this point.
“We’ll carry this over into the new year, starting fresh and starting with a tally in the win column. And get ready for Forbush,” he added.
Starmount (1-8, 0-4 in the Mountain Valley Conference) return to action Friday against Yadkin County rival Forbush in East Bend.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or email@example.com.