SHELBY — T.J. Pugh went to work Saturday night.
Shelby’s senior swingman, Pugh scored a career-high 38 points as the Whippets knocked off Mansfield Senior 80-68 at Shelby High School.
The 6-foot-6 Pugh connected on 14 of 23 field goal attempts and was a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line. He swiped a game-high eight rebounds and handed out a game-high five assists for good measure, helping the Whippets (6-1) avenge a double-overtime loss at Mansfield Senior last year.
“This season I haven’t been playing to my full potential,” Pugh said. “A lot of people haven’t seen the best I can play. … I just came out tonight super-confident and ready to play my best.
“We had a bad taste in our mouth from last year. We never really forgot that game.”
Pugh was unstoppable in the first quarter as Shelby built a 26-16 lead. He scored 15 points in the period and had 20 at the half as the Whippets took a 37-32 advantage to the break.
“We really struggled with his size,” Mansfield Senior coach Marquis Sykes said “He really had it going from the outside. We couldn’t keep him out of the paint or from getting to the basket.
“We just didn’t have an answer for him.”
As good as he was, Pugh had plenty of help. Cody Lantz had 16 points, while Grant Hiatt added 13.
“Tonight was a statement game for (Pugh) and especially our group,” Shelby coach Nathon Loney said. “Not only can T.J score, we’ve got three or four other guys who can get you double figures.”
The Tygers (1-1) trailed 37-34 early in the third quarter after a Shad Creamer layup and 47-41 after an Amil Upchurch layup with 3:39 to play in the period before Shelby went on a quick 8-0 run to take a 55-41 advantage on a pair of Pugh free throws with 2:02 left in the third.
Mansfield Senior closed the quarter on a 5-0 run and trailed 55-46 after three, but the Whippets opened the fourth with a 10-4 run to put it away. Senior High cut it to 70-61 on a conventional three-point play by Upchurch with 2:27 remaining, but would get no closer.
Sykes pulled his starters aside in the closing minute after emptying his bench to deliver a message.
“Just letting then know we need to be consistent and get in the gym Monday,” Sykes said. “We’re really focused on building that team chemistry … and focusing on all the little things we need to focus on to be the team I think we can be.”
Creamer led the Tygers with 21 points and pulled down six rebounds. Maurice Ware added 18, while Upchurch added 14.