After losing their first two Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference contests by a total of six points, Mount Gilead was able to finish on top in a league showdown when they hosted Highland Thursday night.
While the game was played within a five-point margin for nearly the entire 32 minutes, the Indians held the lead for most of that time in claiming a 59-56 win to improve to 3-3, 1-2 in league play. Highland falls to 5-2, 2-1 in the conference.
“This is what we expect all year,” said MG coach Tom Cooper of the closely-contested game after the win. “In the MOAC and against Morrow County teams, this is what you’ll get.”
After Mack Anglin opened the scoring with a basket for the Scots, the Indians bounced back with seven straight points, five scored by Tyler Bland. Mount Gilead led by as many as six points in the period, but a late three-pointer by Max Schreiber brought Highland within a 12-9 margin.
The Scots took that momentum into the second quarter, getting four points from Schreiber in opening the period on an 8-0 run that put them in front 17-12. The Indians would dominate the final 5:12 of the quarter, though, outscoring Highland 17-9 during that time.
Austin Vanderkooi scored six straight points to put the Indians up 18-17 and then, with the score 26-23 in favor of Highland late in the half, Zack Hosack connected on two three-pointers in the final 30 seconds of the second quarter to give MG a 29-26 lead going into the half.
“We didn’t attack their zone very well in the beginning,” said Highland coach Chris Powell in explaining his team’s lack of consistent success on offense. “And we just had bad plays at times. When at home, you shoot better and they shot well in the first half. They did what they do and we couldn’t break them from it.”
Throughout the third quarter, Mount Gilead kept trying to pull away from the Scots, but Highland continued to find ways to stay in the game. A three-pointer by Alex Mason at the 5:22 mark tied the score at 33, but MG got baskets by Bland, Jason Bolha and Mason Mollohan to jump in front by six.
A pair of free throws by Quin Winkelfoos and a three-pointer by Caleb Dodds brought Highland back within one, but the Indians finished the quarter with a basket by Vanderkooi to lead 41-38 with eight minutes to play. Cooper noted that Vanderkooi made a big difference in the contest.
“I was really proud of our effort on the boards,” he said. “I thought Austin Vanderkooi did a great job. He really battled.”
Highland got back within one on a Winkelfoos basket to open the fourth, but MG got shots from Vanderkooi and Bolha to open up a five point lead. The Scots would steadily close the gap until Andrew Wheeler tied things at 53 by draining a three with 1:05 remaining. Highland would not be able to get over the hump, though.
Mount Gilead, who was 8-of-8 from the foul line over the final 91 seconds, got two shots each by Bolha and Hosack to take a four-point lead. Anglin hit a basket and drew a foul. His free throw brought Highland within one, but after being fouled, Bland hit both free throws to put the Indians up 59-56. Highland would miss a late shot allowing the Indians to pick up a much-needed league win.
“We’ll make the best of it,” said Powell. “Stay positive and learn and grow. Losing a league game is not ideal and losing going into the break leave a bad taste, but we’ll move on.”
Highland got 15 points from Winkelfoos, while Anglin added 13 and Schreiber scored 12. For Mount Gilead, both Vanderkooi and Hosack finished with 14, Bolha had 12, Bland tallied 11 and Mollohan added eight.
While Cooper doesn’t feel his team has played their best basketball this season, he noted that they might have an edge in close games with two guards (Hosack and Bland) in their fourth year of being varsity players.
“Our kids, to be honest, have played poorly so far,” he said. “But to their credit, they keep working and have a great attitude. There’s no replacing that game experience. There’s almost nothing that can happen they haven’t experienced. We just tell them to go play — the less they’re thinking, the better they are.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS