Many of the fans in attendance at Wagener-Salley High took notice, but there was not much whooping and hollering — even among them. When the two coaches met for the traditional postgame handshake, Gilbert coach Riley Thomas carried an apologetic tone to Wagener-Salley coach Ken Tucker.
“Good job, your girls’ defense got better (since the previous meeting),” Thomas recalled Tucker saying. “Your girls really pushed us and forced us to do things we didn’t want to do.”
“It was just one of those things that happened,” Thomas said he responded.
What happened was that Wagener-Salley did not score. Not a single point through 32 minutes of basketball. The scoreboard operator never touched the switch on the home team’s side.
Dennis O’Keefe, a high school sports official over the past four decades, said he had never before heard of a shutout in basketball.
“I saw that score,” O’Keefe said, “and I was hoping it wasn’t right.”
O’Keefe recalled a girls’ game several years ago in which Whitmire scored a couple of late baskets in a 74-4 loss against Landrum. There also were low-scoring boys’ and girls’ games in the 1970s when “stall ball” was prevalent.
On the college level, there was the famous 1979 game in which sixth-ranked Duke refused to come out of a zone defense — before the adaptation of the shot clock — against fourth-ranked North Carolina, and the Blue Devils held a 7-0 halftime lead. Duke eventually won 47-40.
For the most part, though, scoreless games are as rare as 100-point games in football, at any level of play.
Not surprisingly, Wagener-Salley’s Tucker wished Friday’s shutout had not happened. Gilbert’s Thomas was not exactly thrilled about the shutout, either, since the two coaches have a mutual respect. Both Thomas, 41, and Tucker, 43, are in their fourth seasons as coach.
“Just so you understand, it’s not like something I tried to do and never thought this would happen,” Thomas said. “I respect their coach very much. He’s a good person. He works hard with those girls. It was just one of those things.”
In its previous four games, all losses, Wagener-Salley averaged 24 points. When the two teams met seven days earlier, Wagener-Salley put up 31 in a 13-point loss at Gilbert. The only sign that Wagener-Salley might struggle to score came this past Tuesday when the War Eagles managed 13 points in a loss to Estill.
Gilbert is a Class 3A school that fields both varsity and junior-varsity squads. Wagener-Salley is a Class A school without a JV program and 11 girls on the varsity. Wagener-Salley was further short-handed Friday with one girl at home sick, another who went to the sideline with an illness and a third who suffered a knee injury.
Gilbert came out determined to switch its defenses, using traps to force turnovers and zones to prevent Wagener-Salley from successfully entering the post area either off the dribble or with passes.
With two seniors on his club, Tucker admitted his Wagener-Salley girls were confused by Gilbert’s switching defenses.
“The girls just executed fairly well and didn’t really give the other team a lot of openings for shots,” Thomas said of his Gilbert club. “When they did shoot, we just got the rebounds and held them to one shot.”
Gilbert scored 13 points in the first quarter and 10 in the second.
“The first half, I thought we didn’t do a very good job of running our offense, and we had some open looks at the basket, but missed,” Tucker said. “The fact that we were still at zero on the scoreboard became a bigger factor the longer the game went on.”
Gilbert switched entirely to a zone defense in the second half, mostly because Thomas did not want to run up a big score. Then it became a matter of Wagener-Salley being unable to make shots from the perimeter, although Tucker said his club also missed a couple of mid-range shots in the second half.
By not penetrating Gilbert’s zone defense, Wagener-Salley failed to create foul-shooting opportunities. Wagener-Salley never went to the free-throw line, while Gilbert made six of its 10 free-throw attempts.
Tucker admitted that his girls probably tightened up after Gilbert built a 32-point lead through three quarters and the pressure to score continued to mount.
“I think that was true,” Tucker said. “Especially in the fourth quarter, you could kind of sense it, not just with the girls, but with people in the gym as well.”
Afterward, Tucker said he did not mention the shutout to his team, instead focusing on its return to practice Monday and an upcoming schedule that features three games this week against teams with a combined 8-1 record.
Wagener-Salley returned to practice with more of a purpose to put the ball in the basket.