A strong third quarter gave Mount Gilead an advantage they would not squander in a fast-paced 83-71 win on the road at Cardington on Thursday.
The score was 36-35 in favor of the Pirates going into the locker room after Devin Pearl hustled for a put-back of a late three-pointer; however, Mount Gilead would immediately grab the momentum when the teams came out for the third period.
Austin Vanderkooi opened the quarter by drawing a foul and hitting both shots from the charity stripe. Pearl responded with a bucket to put the Pirates up 38-37, but MG scored nine straight points, four by Mason Mollohan in taking a 46-38 advantage.
Indian coach Tom Cooper felt rebounding was the key in the game – his team struggled on the boards in the first half, but did far better in the second.
“We felt like we should have had a bigger lead at halftime, but our rebounding was so poor, we were behind,” he said. “We did a lot better in the second half. We know that when we come to Cardington, we’ll be in a battle, but I’m really proud of how the guys played tonight. They really put it together.”
A three-pointer by Luke McCarrell and a basket by Skyler Bowling brought the Pirates within three, but the Indians answered with a seven-point run of their own to lead by nine with 2:28 remaining in the third. Cardington got back-to-back baskets from Pearl and McCarrell; however, MG’s Seth Young hit his second three-pointer of the quarter to keep his team on top 55-47 with eight minutes remaining.
“We were definitely chasing them the entire second half,” said Pirate coach Rod Brown. “Their guys pushed the ball on us and got shots. Every time we scored, they scored.”
A three-pointer by Pearl and basket from Bowling helped get Cardington within a 56-52 score early in the fourth quarter, but a basket by Tyler Bland and two straight put-backs from Mollohan expanded MG’s lead to 10.
“Mason Mollohan is really coming into his own and I’m really proud of how he rebounded in the second half,” said Cooper.
McCarrell (12 points) and Pearl (four) brought Cardington within five points at 73-68 with just over a minute to play, but they would not be able to get over the hump. Baskets by Vanderkooi, Bland and Jason Bolha, as well as four free throws (three by Mollohan) allowed the Indians to finish on top in a key road MOAC game.
“I know it was a high-scoring game, but Mount Gilead played good defense and took us out of our game,” said Brown.
The coach added that they did a good job on Garrett Wagner, who’d been hot from beyond the arc. Compounding that problem was a bit of foul trouble, as starting guard Derek Goodman spent a lot of time on the bench in the second half.
“They did a good job on Garrett, face-guarding him,” he said. “I think that’s the first time he’s seen that. And having Derek on the bench hurts us because he’s our primary ball-handler.”
Early in the game, it looked like the Indians wouldn’t have much trouble in getting the win, as they jumped out to a 12-5 lead in the opening minutes of the first quarter. Trailing 14-7, though, Cardington got five points from Goodman in closing within two by the end of the period.
Goodman hit a three-pointer early in the second quarter to give the Pirates their first lead at 19-18. MG would regain the advantage on a pair of free throw by Young, but Cardington got a steal and score by Goodman, followed by a basket from Bowling and a free throw by Goodman to go up by four.
Neither team could get the advantage in the period, though. MG battled back to tie the game and the two teams traded it back-and-forth until the third quarter, when the Indians took a lead they would not relinquish.
“This year, I told the kids it’s a new year,” said Cooper. “Things just didn’t go our way in December. I just told them to stay confident because we have too much experience. I knew we would have a good game.”
For the Pirates, Pearl scored a game-high 24, while McCarrell added 23, Goodman finished with 12 and Bowling had 10. All six scoring players for MG reached double figures. Mollohan led with 17, Bland tallied 15, Zack Hosack hit four threes on his way to 14, Vanderkooi added 13 and both Bolha and Young contributed 12.