Making sure a team isn’t deterred, regardless of what the situation is, is a good way to keep your team focused on the prize at hand.
However, it’s hard to beat a team that is hot unless you put the nail in the coffin.
Despite holding the lead for most of the second half and throughout the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter, the Minford Falcons weren’t able to close out the red-hot Chillicothe Southeastern Panthers, as Lane Ruby’s and-one basket with less than 50 seconds left allowed Chillicothe Southeastern to take a 51-49 lead.
Minford, who kept battling all game long, didn’t quit despite the circumstances, as Kelton Kelley’s trey with less than 15 seconds left allowed the Falcons to cut the gap to one.
But following two free throws by the Panthers’ Rex Hartman, Kelley’s game-tying three-pointer from the right corner sailed off the side of the iron, and Minford fell by a 55-52 count in a hard-fought Division III, Athens II District Semifinal on Sunday evening at the Convocation Center on the campus of Ohio University.
The Falcons’ efforts, however, weren’t lost on Josh Shoemaker.
“Chillicothe Southeastern just hit a couple more shots than we did,” Shoemaker said. “I felt that our kids played well, and Southeastern did too. It’s just a tough loss.”
Chillicothe Southeastern started off the contest red-hot from the floor as Hartman and Ruby each connected on treys to get the Panthers off and running, while Zach Bodary and Aaron Benson each added a pair of low-post buckets to aid Southeastern as it built a 15-7 advantage early on in the quarter.
To Minford’s credit, the Falcons kept working.
Behind the energy of Tyler Compton and Simon Thoroughman in the low post, along with the long-range shooting abilities of Matthew Gullett and Tyler McCormick up top, Minford used a 7-2 quarter-ending spurt to cut an eight-point Southeastern lead down to a 15-12 tally after a quarter of play.
“We believe that the strength of our team comes from how we play on the inside,” Shoemaker said. “Our guards did a good job of getting the ball into the post, and our post players did a good job of finding open guys out on the perimeter.”
The Falcons then converted that strong finish to the first quarter by putting together an excellent second quarter in holding the Panthers to just a single field goal over the following eight minutes of play — all while continuing to show the very balance and activity that got it back in the contest.
In addition to the efforts of Compton, Thoroughman, and Dillon Shepherd in the low post, Gambill and Kelley also provided a great compliment to the trio with their shooting and driving abilities.
After Benson hit the back end of two free throw attempts to give Southeastern a 16-14 advantage, Kelley came back with a game-tying bucket off of the left block, and, following a Shepherd bucket that tied the score at 18, nailed a huge trey that gave Minford its first lead of the contest. Gambill then stole possession away from a Panther player and took advantage of the opportunity that the senior created by sailing all the way to the rack for a layup.
By the time the run was all said and done, the Falcons had outscored the Panthers by an 11-3 tally in the quarter — including a stanza-ending 7-0 spurt — to take a 23-18 advantage into the locker room.
And at first, it looked like the Falcons were only going to be able to extend their lead.
Cameron Dalton, who wasn’t able to get on the scoreboard in the first half, responded with a riveting third quarter that saw the sophomore do everything from obtaining second-chance points to bothering shots on the defensive end of the floor. The 6-4 post even stepped out and canned a three-pointer from the left wing en route to giving Minford a 34-28 advantage with 3:35 left to play in the third quarter. He finished with a dozen critical points for the Falcons, nine of which came in the third stanza.
“Cameron continues to get better,” Shoemaker said. “He provides us with a lot of length, and used that length effectively throughout the contest.”
But as they had in its victory against Lynchburg-Clay, Chillicothe Southeastern stayed in the gas. Behind the play of Lane Ruby, who supplied 13 points in the third-quarter of play — including seven during an 11-3 Panthers’ run — Chillicothe Southeastern was able to retake the lead, 35-34, within a two-minute stretch.
However, Minford’s work in the paint — and its subsequent free throw shooting that came from the contact draw from those low-post opportunites — allowed the Falcons to regain control. Charity stripe makes by Compton, Dalton, and Kelley — who combined to make five of their six attempts from the line — allowed Minford to take a 39-38 advantage at the end of the third behind Kelley’s pair of makes with 2.6 seconds left in the frame.
In the fourth quarter, the Falcons continued to stick to the script, as Minford obtained a nifty finish from Shepherd inside and an additional free throw from the senior. His efforts, in addition to a pair of free throws from Gambill and another corner trey from Dalton, allowed Minford to extend the lead to a 47-43 lead with less than four minutes left to play.
But at the end of the day, the play of Hartman and Ruby were just too much to overcome. The pair combined for 31 of Southeastern’s 55 tallies, with the former putting together a pair of free throws and the latter nailing a triple that cut the deficit to a 47-46 tally with just over a minute and a half left in the contest.
Still, despite a bucket by Ethan Smith that gave the Panthers the lead, Minford was sitting in good shape as Gambill countered with a steal and two free throws following a foul on a layup attempt.
As Ruby had all evening, however, the freshman found a way to answer. The 5-8 guard snuck into the lane, took contact, and finished an acrobatic layup to give Chillicothe Southeastern a 51-49 advantage.
Even after that, and a pair of free throws by Smith, Minford still had a chance.
With less than 15 seconds left, Kelley showed tremendous guts by pulling and connecting on a trey from the right corner that cut the deficit to one.
And even though Hartman connected on a pair of free throws that pushed the lead back out to three, Minford still had a chance.
Thanks to the calm and patient passing that the Falcons displayed on its final possession, Kelley was able to receive an similar look from deep, and let fly a shot that looked good from a distance. However, the shot sailed to the left side of the rim, bounced off of it, and went out as time expired, allowing the Panthers to hang on for the victory.
“Kelton hit that three that cut it to one, and then had a really good, clean look there at the buzzer,” Shoemaker said. “It didn’t go his way, but regardless, he shot the ball well, and that’s what he brings to the table for us.”
Despite the loss, Shoemaker was pleased at what the six-man senior class brought to the table for Minford. The class, which consists of Compton, Gullett, McCormick, Shepherd, Thoroughman, and Tanner Gampp, departs having taking home three sectional titles over their four years as Falcons.
“As a coach, you always want more wins for your seniors,” Shoemaker said. “We really wanted to defeat Chillicothe Southeastern tonight, and it didn’t happen, but that doesn’t change their impact on this program. I want to thank each of them for their leadership and for their hard work at Minford.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7