By ROB HAMILTON
Strong defensive efforts in the second and fourth quarter boosted Mount Gilead to a 60-46 road win against Northmor in their season-opener on Thursday.
While the two teams both scored 33 points in the first and third periods, the Indians outscored the Knights 12-6 in the second period and 15-7 in the fourth to get their season off to a 1-0 start. Northmor falls to 1-1.
“Anytime you can get a road win in the MOAC, it’s a good night,” said MG head coach Tom Cooper. “We had a lot of question marks coming in, Northmor had a win under their belt and this was our first real game.”
The two teams played a back-and-forth game in the opening eight minutes, with neither team able to maintain momentum consistently until the very end of the period. The Indians took an early 9-6 lead on a three-pointer by Deondre Cook, but Northmor fired back with long-range shots by Gunnar Lilly and Brock Pletcher to claw in front 12-11.
Trailing 15-14, the Knights got a bucket from Zach Parrott, which was followed by Demetrius Johnson stealing the ball and driving for two more. However, in the final 30 seconds of the half, the Indians scored five straight points to regain the lead, getting a shot by Alijah Keen followed by a Zack Hosack three.
“We made a comment after the first quarter that we couldn’t get into a scoring match with them,” said Knight coach Zach Ruth. “They have the most experienced back court in the league.”
Unfortunately for the Knights, after that first quarter, the well went dry offensively. While Johnson opened the period with two free throws to tie things at 20, Northmor only mustered four points over the remainder of the period. Ruth noted that his team didn’t show the sort of composure against a league rival he would have liked.
“I thought we played scared,” he said. “We played hard, but scared. I even made a comment during warm-ups that Mount Gilead looked ready to play and we weren’t. I was very disgusted with how we were impatient against their zone. We didn’t make the right cuts or reads and part of that is on me.”
Leading 24-22, the Indians went on a run to open up a commanding lead going into the half. Keen scored four points for MG during that stretch, while Jason Bolha added a triple. While Northmor’s Lilly scored the final points of the half on a pair of free throws, Mount Gilead still held a 32-24 lead at the intermission.
While Northmor constantly fought to chip into that deficit in the third quarter, they would be unable to get closer than five points. For the Indians, Tyler Bland scored seven points in that period to help keep his team on top.
“Tyler Bland had a really nice night, but the nice thing is our experienced guard play and that they can all score,” said Cooper. “Most of our guards have three years of varsity experience and that experience goes a long way.”
Northmor was still in the game entering the fourth quarter, only trailing 45-39, but a rough stretch in the early going of that period put an end to their hopes for a comeback win. The Knights only scored four points — all from the foul line — over the opening four minutes to allow the Indians to increase their lead to double digits at 54-43. After a hot first quarter, the Knights struggled from the field — something that wasn’t lost on either coach.
“Northmor has some really nice players,” said Cooper. “Demetrius is a handful — he’s really tough to guard. And they had a lot of inside looks that didn’t fall. If a few of those had gone, it could have been a different game.”
While the Indians graduated All-Ohioan Xavier Harris (first team) and Chris Godfrey (honorable mention) from last year’s team, Ruth felt that going against those two every day in practice for multiple years rubbed off on the current team.
“For every steal or turnover we created, they created two and they would capitalize,” he said. “Honestly, I think where they get it from is all those years with Xavier Harris and Chris Godfrey. They’re not afraid to go after anyone.”
Northmor got 15 points from Johnson, while both Lilly and Pletcher finished with eight. For Mount Gilead, Bland led all scorers with 21, while Keen added 17 and Cook scored nine. Cooper added that a lot of players contributed to this win.
“To me, the best part of tonight was the outstanding play of the guys off our bench,” he said. “Austin Vanderkooi, Alex Ferguson, Ben Hayes, Mason Mollohan and Jason Bolha all came in and played excellent basketball.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS