A great third quarter gave Mount Gilead a commanding lead over Bishop Ready in boys’ basketball sectional action Wednesday night and the host Indians were able to hold off a furious late rally by the Silver Knights in claiming a 56-48 win.
The Indians only led 24-23 at the half, but outscored their opponents 17-4 in the third to take a 14-point lead into the final eight minutes. They would increase that margin to as many as 18 points, but Ready went on a 15-0 run to keep things tense in the final moments before MG was able to celebrate their win.
“We knew we’d be in for a battle all night,” said Indian coach Tom Cooper. “You can’t look at Ready’s record (6-16 entering Wednesday’s game). They’re the smallest school in the CCL and play a lot of Division I and II teams.”
In fact, Cooper noted the simple fact Ready chose to play his team in their first tournament game was a lot of motivation for his players. Despite their record, the Knights earned the ninth seed in the Central District, which gave them an option to open the tournament at home. Instead, they chose to travel to fifth-seeded MG.
“To be honest, our guys were super-motivated,” he said. “Bishop Ready chose to come here and they could have had a home game, so our guys felt disrespected.”
The same thing happened to Mount Gilead last year, when seventh-seeded Linden McKinley chose to visit the fourth-seeded Indians, rather than start with a lower-seeded opponent at home.
“One of the things our guys wanted to do was set a precedent,” said the coach. “Last year, we beat a City League team in Linden McKinley and now a CCL team. We’re trying to get the word out that you don’t want to go to the Indians’ house, so maybe they’ll stop choosing to come here!”
However, to advance past Ready, the Indians had to overcome some adversity. In the opening half, Ready post Dominick Volini proved to be a deadly force inside, scoring 12 of his team’s 23 points. Six of that number staked his team to an early 9-6 lead in the first quarter, but MG finished the period strongly, getting a basket and free throw from Isaiah Harris and five straight points from Tyler Bland to lead 14-9 after eight minutes.
Four points by Mason Mollohan in the opening four minutes of the second quarter put the Indians up 20-12, but Ready went on an 11-2 run, helped by a pair of Volini dunks, to take a 23-22 lead with 10 seconds remaining. However, Bland would hit a shot in the final seconds to give his team a one-point lead going into the half.
In the second half, Volini was held to one basket and Ready’s struggles with getting the ball to him helped catapult MG to a commanding lead.
“He’s a special athlete,” said Cooper of the Ready player. “Our gameplan revolved around keeping him out of the post and we had a couple breakdowns. Alijah Keen, Isaiah Harris and Austin Vanderkooi were just excellent at keeping him out in the second half.”
Harris, Zack Hosack and Bland all hit shots to open the third quarter. Then, holding a 33-27 lead with just over three minutes remaining, the team got a three-pointer by Harris, baskets from Hosack and Keen and a free throw by Keen to jump out to a 41-27 advantage with eight minutes left.
MG opened the fourth quarter with consecutive shots from Mollohan and Bland to lead by 18 with 7:26 left in regulation, but the game was far from over. Dominic Lombardi scored eight straight points for Ready and teammates Brady Thomas and Chanc Dawson added the next seven, and with two minutes remaining, the score was now 45-42.
Fortunately for the Indians, they had one more run left in them. Keen hit a basket, Hosack drained one free throw and Deondre Cook turned a steal into two more points to go up 50-42 entering the final minute. While Ready did connect on a pair of three-pointers down the stretch, they weren’t able to get closer than five points the rest of the way.
Cooper felt a big part of his team’s strong second half was simply matching Ready’s aggressiveness.
“They were coming out and being aggressive against us, so we told them we have to be aggressive and not take bad shots,” said the coach.
Bland led Mount Gilead with 13 points, while Hosack added 12, Cook finished with 10 and Harris added eight. Mount Gilead advanced to the district semifinals against either Pleasant or Northridge. The game site will be announced Sunday.