A fast start combined with a strong defensive performance paved the way for the Highland boys’ basketball team (6-9) to earn a non-conference home win over Danville by a 54-40 margin.
The Scots started out hot in the first game and finished it with a 10-point lead over their guests. From there, while the Blue Devils were able to get within three a couple times, Highland led throughout.
“I thought the key to the game for us was that we had to play defense,” said Scot coach Christian Toombs. “We could only give up one shot opportunity. Our biggest concern was giving up shot after shot.”
In the opening eight minutes, it was Highland that was making the shots. Six minutes into the game, they led 14-2 on the strength of seven points from Jordan Bellamy, five from Garrett Fitzpatrick and a bucket by Dane Nauman. While the Blue Devils finished the quarter with a Walker Weckesser bucket, they still trailed by 10.
Danville’s best quarter was the second. Trailing 18-8, they rattled off seven straight points to get within three of the Scots. The teams traded scores the rest of the period, but Highland was able to finish the period with a Nauman basket to give his team a 24-19 lead going into the half.
“That’s the thing,” said Toombs. “We’ve been in some close games. We never relinquished that lead. That’s kind of a testament to our guys.”
If not for a late Blue Devil run in the third quarter, the Scots would have pulled away during those eight minutes. Fitzpatrick and Brock Church opened the period with back-to-back shots — with Church hitting from long range — to boost the Highland lead to 10 points.
Then, with the score 33-24 midway through the period, Church hit twice from the field to give the Scots a 37-24 advantage. However, Danville would finish the quarter with a flurry, getting two points by Kendall Carter and four from Wyatt Weckesser to close within seven.
Highland would control the fourth quarter to pull away for the double-digit win, though. After Church and Darren Mickley traded threes to open the period, the Scots got a bucket and free throw by Nauman and a three-pointer by Rider Minnick to boost their advantage to a 46-33 score.
Then, with the score 48-38 with just over four minutes to go, the Scots scored sixth straight — four by Fitzpatrick — to finish strongly and clinch the victory.
Toombs got 14 points by Fitzpatrick, 13 — including a trio of threes — by Church and nine each by Bellamy and Nauman. However, it was his team’s defensive effort that impressed the coach the most. Other than Mickley, who finished with 15, no Danville player was able to reach double digits.
“When they did push the ball, I thought we did a good job getting back in our half-court defense and not give their shooters open looks,” he said. “Only giving them one shot opportunity was huge for us. Our main goal was holding them under their season average of 60 and I thought we did a great job of that.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS