After a couple rough games, Highland coach Chris Powell was happy with what he saw at Mount Gilead on Friday.
After falling into an early hole, the Scots were able to take a lead over the Indians and then managed to hold back second half rally attempts by MG in claiming a 60-56 win.
“A league game on the road and our last couple games, we just did not compete,” said Powell. “We played really hard tonight. It’s just special and I’m really proud of them.”
Making the win more special was that it didn’t look like the team would have a chance to earn the decision in the early going. Two three-pointers by Matthew Bland and two-point shots by Nathan Rogers and Jackson Huffer staked MG to a 10-2 lead halfway through the opening period.
Unfortunately for the Indians, things got ugly for them over the remainder of the period, as turnovers played a big role in them not scoring over those final four minutes. Meanwhile, four different players tallied points for Highland, with both Landon Remmert and Branton Howard connecting from long range to give their team a 14-10 lead.
“It’s definitely been an issue for us,” said MG coach Dan Strasser of his team’s turnover woes. “We talk about it and work on it every day in practice and talk about it every game. We can’t use youth and inexperience as an excuse any more. It’s painful.”
The Indians only hit two field goals on three-pointers by Paul Butterman and Bland in the second period. Their other points came from four free throws in nine attempts — another problem that Strasser said cost his team the opportunity for a win.
“We were 17-of-30 on free throws and if we just make half of those, that’s six more and a close win,” he said. “Every possession counts. It doesn’t matter what quarter it is, they all count in the end.”
Meanwhile, Highland was able to take a 29-20 lead into the locker room after getting five points from Gavin Hankins in the second, as well as three each from Howard and Jordan Bellamy. Powell felt that his team played with good composure in the game, something he attributes to his players’ good work ethic despite not having much on-court success this season.
“Here’s what it is,” he said. “We’ve lost some tough games, but every night, the guys show up with the right attitude and mindset. I’m really excited for them. They deserve it.”
Mount Gilead battled back within striking distance in the third, as Rogers had a big quarter. The senior forward finished with nine points in a period in which the Indians got as close as four points before entering the fourth down by a 41-35 margin.
Trailing 52-46 with 3:30 remaining in the contest, the Indians got a three-pointer by Butterman and another from Huffer to tie things up at 52. However, they would not be able to get over the hump. Highland quickly drew a foul and Hankins hit both free throws. Butterman would get fouled and hit one of two to keep MG within a 54-53 margin, but the Scots got two from Bellamy to go up by three.
Highland would get the ball back and Bellamy connected on a pair of free throws to make it 58-53. After a pair of missed foul shots by the Indians, the Scot guard drew another fouled and hit one shot to make it a six-point lead. Huffer would hit a three-pointer with six seconds left to bring the Indians to within three points, but the team wouldn’t be able to score again in the contest.
Strasser felt some of his team’s ball-control issues came from the double whammy of injuries and foul trouble. Starting point guard Joel Butterman was out for the game and multiple ball-handlers got in foul trouble during the course of the game.
“We got in foul trouble and were short-handed with Joel’s injury,” he said. “We had Jackson run the point and he got in foul trouble. We had a short bench to begin with and then had starters in foul trouble.”
Rogers led MG with 19 points, while Bland scored 13, hitting three three-pointers in the game, while Huffer had 12. Bellamy led Highland with 18 points, Howard hit three threes in scoring 13 and Hankins finished with 11.
Powell was happy with how his team closed the game, noting that they hadn’t had many opportunities to hold onto a lead down the stretch.
“That was huge because we haven’t been in that situation all year long,” he said. “It would have been really easy to give this one away. They locked in and made the plays. They made the plays to win the game. It wasn’t given to them.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS