A winter break full of pleas to be more physical seemed to fall on deaf ears for the Pioneers.
Warren County was outmuscled in its 2020 debut on the hardwood Friday, falling to Coffee County 57-46 on the road. It was the third time in four seasons the Pioneers were unsuccessful in Manchester, including losing the last two matchups.
“Teams are still finding ways to score around the rim against us,” said Pioneer coach Chris Sullens. “We’re going to have to use these next few games to find ways to improve before we get into district play. Right now, teams know what they want to do to give us trouble.”
Jaylan Wooten became the latest big man to hurt the Pioneers, scoring 21 points in the victory for Coffee County. The 6-foot-8 wing seemed at ease finishing in the paint, including three times where he caught lobs off inbounds passes and simply laid it up over leaping Pioneers.
CJ Anthony, who was a star at Warren County Middle School, added 12 points for Coffee County, including two free throws in the fourth quarter to snap a Pioneer rally and a late run-out layup to seal victory.
CJ Taylor led Warren County with 11 points, followed by Aiden Cummings with 10.
Warren County (9-6) held an early 17-16 advantage after one quarter, aided by a late three-point play by Cummings and a floater by Dee Spates. The Pioneers fell behind in the second quarter, especially when Taylor missed the final three minutes.
The Pioneer junior, who recently missed three games in December to rest injuries, came out with the game locked in a stalemate. Taylor retreated into the locker room to have his ankle retaped, but had to watch the last few seconds of the first half as Coffee County took a 29-26 lead.
The home team never surrendered its advantage from there.
Wooten scored six points in the third period as Coffee County built a double-digit lead. Tyler Taylor made it 45-34 with a deep 3-pointer in front of his own bench, sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
Irving Espinoza, who was saddled with foul trouble in the first half, gave the Pioneers a glimmer of hope in the fourth quarter. Espinoza snapped a two-minute scoreless streak by both teams to start the fourth with a straightaway 3-pointer, cutting the Coffee County lead to 45-38 with 5:41 to play.
Lacedrick ‘Red’ Cox followed with a swipe-and-score, intercepting a pass at midcourt and running untouched for a layup with 5:00 to play.
Anthony was able to settle the Red Raiders with two free throws, bullying his way to the rim and getting fouled. It became a trend for Coffee County, with Wooten and Anthony taking turns attacking to set up layups that put the game away.
“We had it down to five points. We continued to push, but they started going back to the rim and getting looks,” said Sullens.
Spates, Espinoza and Kaden Rutledge finished with six points in the loss, while Chance Hunter hit a late 3-pointer after the Pioneers cleared the bench with 2:04 left down 13.
Warren County was back in action Saturday night against Cannon County. Scores were unavailable at press time.
The Pioneers play host to Livingston Academy Monday night. Action is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.