For three quarters, it looked like Highland would be able to complete a season sweep of Mount Gilead in KMAC competition.
The fourth quarter was a different story, though, as the Indians erased a seven-point deficit with a 17-point run and then held on down the stretch for a 59-58 victory.
“That’s as fun as it gets,” said MG coach Tom Cooper. “I couldn’t be more proud of the kids or coaching staff. I think the real key was everything at the defensive end. Once we bought in at the defensive end, we got more aggressive at the offensive end.”
It’s doubtful the Indians were having much fun in the early going, as sloppy ball control combined with a hot-shooting Highland team combined to put them in an early 14-2 deficit. Both Chris Branham and Mack Anglin tallied four apiece to stake Highland to a big early lead.
The Indians were able to get five points from Jason Bolha down the stretch in the quarter to close within an 18-11 margin. They would then nearly catch up to Highland in the second, opening the period on an 8-2 run to close within 20-19. However, the Scots got four from Anglin in the final two minutes of the half to move in front 26-21 going into the half.
Highland coach Chris Powell noted that his team’s defense and offense were intertwined in the game, saying that when one was working, so was the other.
“We missed a couple shots we’d hit earlier,” he said. “To me, we were scoring and when we’re scoring, it’s easier to defend. Knocking down shots makes it easier to defend.”
However, he added that while his team held the lead for much of the game, they never could extend it enough to truly get comfortable.
“We never could extend it to 15, which puts a different kind of pressure on them,” he said.
Throughout the third quarter, Highland tried to pull away, but the Indians were able to keep the score close. Leading 36-33 midway through the period, the Scots got three-pointers from Cody Holtrey and Anglin and a two-pointer by Branham to boost their lead to an 11-point margin. However, the Indians got seven straight points from Bolha to get within four before another Holtrey three made it 47-40 with eight minutes remaining.
Very little went right for the Scots over the opening five minutes of the final quarter. Mount Gilead got six points from Bolha and five more from Mollohan in scoring 17 straight to take a 57-47 lead with 3:09 left. During that stretch, the Indians hit 8-of-9 free throw attempts, while the Scots missed two front ends of one-and-one opportunities.
“That’s been one of our strengths,” said Cooper. “We’re a good free throw shooting team. It helps when you have a senior point guard and another senior in Seth Young to take those big free throws.”
In the other locker room, Powell lamented those lost opportunities.
“We were 1-of-4 in the fourth, but missed the front end of two one-and-ones, so that’s 1-of-6 that we could have made,” he said, adding that in a one-point game, those shots were crucial.
Highland did rally late in the game, getting five points from Branham to close within two points with 1:41 remaining. However, MG hit 2-of-4 free throws down the stretch and the Scots didn’t score again until Branham hit a three in the final seconds to bring his team within one with time running out.
Cooper gave a lot of credit for the win to his younger guards for the defensive job they did on some of Highland’s players despite suffering a size disadvantage.
“They’re just a match-up nightmare for us because, besides Mason, we’re not big,” he said. “I’m proud of Brandon Stevens, Adam Linder and Liam Dennis. They were key to our win tonight.”
The coach added that the more his players can pressure other teams’ ball-handlers, the better the result for his squad.
“Our last two games have been, by far, the best defense we’ve played,” he said. “Our guys are starting to buy in. Our motto’s ‘pressure busts the pipe’.”
Bolha led the Indians with 23 points and three three-pointers, while Mollohan scored 19 and Young tallied 11. For Highland, Branham led the team with 22, Anglin scored 16 and Holtrey hit three three-pointers for nine.
Powell noted that his team simply has to learn how to finish games with the opportunity is there.
“We just have to learn from this,” he said. “What do we need to do to extend the lead? We’ll take this as a learning challenge and progress.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS