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RUTLEDGE—Thanks to a big-time rally, new Morristown East girls basketball coach Haylea Styles has her first victory.

The Lady Hurricanes survived a torrid start by Claiborne County in which they fell behind by 17 points. East then settled down and played pretty good basketball in the second half to post a 68-66 victory Tuesday night in the Pizza Plus Thanksgiving Classic at Grainger County High School.

Kiersten Bell fired in 17 points to lead four Lady ‘Canes in double figures as they evened their record at 1-1. Emma Wampler scored 14 and grabbed 13 rebounds while Zoe Shelley tossed through 14 and Megan Winstead 10.

Wampler, Bell and Winstead all wound up with double-doubles as Winstead and Bell got 10 rebounds each.

The same two problems that killed them in their season opener showed up again in the first half. East, which had 32 turnovers and missed 23 free throws in a loss to Fulton, suffered 16 turnovers and missed 10 of 19 free throws in the first two quarters.

Those stats and some torrid shooting by the Lady Bulldogs led to a 44-30 halftime deficit for the Lady ‘Canes. However, East settled down and took better care of the basketball with just six turnovers in the second half and also connected on 8 of 10 free throws.

Styles said, “I looked at the stat sheet at halftime and said to myself we’re on pace for another 32-turnover game. But the girls got things turned around and started chipping away at their lead.

“I thought we were more aggressive on offense and also played much better defensively,” remarked Styles. “We did a better job of getting out on their shooters. We’re such a young team that the girls sometimes just don’t react the way you’d think, like getting out and getting a hand in the face of the girls that hit 8 of 12 three’s in the first two quarters.”

Styles went on to say, “Cutting down on the turnovers makes a world of difference. I also thought we played with more urgency and that’s all I want is for them to go out and play hard. I thought we came out kind of dead at the start and got way behind.

“We have really young guards and I thought we were really nervous early in the game. We saw pressure and we freaked out a little bit,” said Styles. “In the second half, we executed a lot better against their press.”

She continued, “We missed way too many free throws again even though we did better in the last two quarters. Obviously, that’s something we work on every day in practice. But that’s not the same as shooting them under pressure in a game.

“Hailey Hall hit two huge pressure free throws to put us ahead and then Ella hit another one to give us a two-point lead,” Styles said. “But we missed one at the end and they wound up getting off a three-point shot at the buzzer that could have cost us the game.”

Hall said it was exciting to get her first victory as a high school coach, “It is very exciting. Especially the way we came back in the second half to get it. I was really proud of the girls for the comeback and how hard they worked to do it.”

Allie Jones gunned in 23 points for Claiborne County, now 0-3. Hannah Fugate added 16 and Taylor Pressnell 10.

With Jones hitting three straight, the Lady Bulldogs gunned in 5 of 6 three’s in the first quarter alone. Emma Myatt hit a three to start the scoring. Hudson Cloninger popped in a triple to get East within 7-6 with just under six minutes left in the first period.

However, Claiborne scored 10 consecutive points as Jones had two three’s to lead the way. Jones hit a layup to stretch the lead to 27-10 before Wampler hit a free toss and Bell scored inside for the Lady ‘Canes. But Katie Hicks’ basket capped a 29-point quarter and the Lady Bulldogs led by 16 at the first stop.

Shelley hit two free tosses, Winstead converted a three-point play and Wampler sank two charity tosses to pull East within 31-20 with 6:19 left in the half. However, another three by Jones restored the margin to 16 at 39-23 with 2:55 on the clock.

Bell sandwiched baskets around one by Shelley to get East within 12 at 42-30 before Pressnell’s bucket made it 44-30 at halftime.

The Lady ‘Canes chipped away at the lead, scoring six straight to open the third canto. But Fugate and Jones hit buckets and the lead was 52-41. Winstead had another old-fashioned three-point play and Cloninger knocked in a basket to get East within six before Pressnell scored for Claiborne.

However, Shelley knocked down a three and added two free throws with 18 seconds left in the third and East was down by only three (54-51) at the final rest stop.

Wampler’s basket got the Lady ‘Canes within one to start the fourth period but Hailey Sexton popped in a three and baskets by Fugate and Jones pushed the lead back to 61-53 with 5:58 left in the game.

East could have folded but played even harder instead. Bell, Cloninger, Shelley and Winstead all had baskets in the next 1:15 and the margin was back down to two at 63-61.

Jones hit a free throw for the losers and Winstead scored again for East. Pressnell hit a free throw and Wampler scored inside to knot the game at 65-65.

Hall made two free throws with 1:21 on the clock to put East ahead for the first time. Fugate hit a charity toss for Claiborne with 1:07 left to make it 67-66 before Wampler hit a free throw with 46.7 on the clock that actually closed the scoring.

In the final frantic seconds, East missed a free throw with 10.7 left and the Lady Bulldogs rebounded and got the ball down the floor. They almost didn’t get off a shot before Fugate fired up a long three at the buzzer that bounced off the rim.

East wound up 24 of 52 from the floor for 46.2 percent. That total includes 3 of 13 from behind the arc. The losers were 24 of 50 for 48 percent and finished 9 of 19 on three-point tries.

The Lady ‘Canes had a 42-31 rebound edge.

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