After trailing early against Mount Gilead, host Highland finished the opening quarter on a 10-1 run and never looked back in claiming a huge 66-51 win Thursday night.
The decision wound up placing the Scots in a four-way tie for first place in the Blue Division of the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference with a 7-3 league record. MG falls to fifth at 6-4.
The Indians got out to a fast start, getting three-pointers from Zack Hosack and Seth Young and a bucket from Mason Mollohan to take an early 8-7 lead, but couldn’t maintain that offense over the final three minutes of the period.
Highland got a basket from Mack Anglin and then both Kaleb Phillips and Anglin hit from long range to put the Scots in front 15-8. Jason Bolha connected on a free throw for the Indians, but Colten Liszkai drew a foul and hit both shots to give Highland a 17-9 lead after eight minutes.
The defensive effort the Scots showed during that three-minute span is the sort of thing Highland head coach Chris Powell likes to see out of his club, which only gave up an average of 45 points per game entering the game.
“We wanted a total defensive effort,” he said. “We have high expectations to take out scorers and with some small exceptions, we did a really good job of finding their guys.”
Young opened the second quarter with a three-pointer for the Indians, but Highland got five straight points by Anglin to jump in front by 10. However, MG was able to battle back behind a pair of threes from Hosack to close with a 22-20 margin with 4:15 remaining in the first half.
They would not be able to get over the hump, though. After the teams traded a couple baskets, Highland was able to expand a 27-24 lead into a 31-24 halftime advantage thanks to a free throw by Phillips and a three-pointer by Quin Winkelfoos.
After the game was over, Indian coach Tom Cooper was able to give a laundry list of reason why things didn’t work out as he would have hoped in the game.
“In the first half, I though we played pretty uninspired and unengaged and they came out shooting the ball well in their home gym,” he said. “For whatever reason, guys who’ve been real consistent didn’t shoot well tonight. We shot a lot from the perimeter and didn’t get much going inside. What really hurt us was they were so hot from three-point range early, which kind of set the tone. They hit big shots and set the tone.”
Highland continued to hit big shots in the third quarter, as they opened the period by scoring nine straight points. Winkelfoos scored the first five and then both Andrew Wheeler and Caleb Dodds added baskets to put the Scots up 40-24.
“We just had some lapses on the defensive end early in the game,” said Powell. “We did a much better job in the second half rotating and being where we needed to be.”
A pair of three-pointers by Young brought the Indians as close as a 45-35 margin, but Highland got two each from Phillips and Anglin to lead 49-36 entering the fourth.
Over those final eight minutes, Mount Gilead got as close as 10 points at the 5:27 mark, but a 9-0 run by Highland sparked by seven straight Phillips’ points put the game out of reach.
For the game, Anglin finished with 24 points and hit four three-pointers, while Phillips scored 22 with three threes and Winkelfoos added eight. Powell noted that not only did the two put up strong statistical games, but also simply worked well together.
“I loved how they played together,” he said. “They gave the ball to each other and trusted each other. Everybody has different jobs and they embrace that — it’s just a matter of executing.”
Mount Gilead got four three-pointers from Hosack (19 points) and Young (12), while Mollohan put up 10. Cooper noted that his team simply has to forget about this game and get ready for Saturday’s home bout with Cardington.
“Anyone can beat anyone,” he said of league play. “This is a disappointing loss, but we have to play Cardington Saturday. We just have to keep battling.”
Highland also has a big game on Saturday, as they travel to Centerburg in a battle between two of the four co-leaders in the Blue Division (Northmor and Cardington being the other two).
“If we win out, we get at least a share of the title,” said Powell. “All we’re worried about is our Saturday night game with Centerburg.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS