FRANKLIN FURNACE — For one day, Dirk Hollar had to be feeling like famed College Basketball Hall of Fame head coach John Thompson, Sr. — but not in a good way.
As most basketball aficionados will recall, the Villanova Wildcats, under the direction of Rollie Massimino, hit an incredible 22 of its 28 field goal attempts for a 78.1 percent ratio en route to defeating the heavily-favored Georgetown Hoyas, 66-64, in the 1985 NCAA Division I Championship Game.
Unfortunately, Hollar’s Green Bobcats — who truly played solid defense throughout Saturday evening’s affair against the Ironton St. Joseph Flyers — fell victim to the same kind of performance, as the Flyers, led by 28 points from Ashland (Ky.) transfer Joey McDavid, shot an unreal 85 percent from the field en route to a 72-58 victory over the Bobcats during a matchup between the duo on Saturday evening in Franklin Furnace.
Even so, however, Green had plenty to be proud of. Despite those blistering shooting percentages, the Bobcats fought back from not only one, but two double-digit deficits to cut the lead to four and five points during the third quarter — showing a fight that proves that this Green unit could very well be different from the ones in years past.
“It seemed like once we got the momentum going, Ironton St. Joseph would hit a three, or a two, or an and-one,” Hollar said, understandably disappointed with the result. “I’ve never seen it before. 85 percent. And they shot 46 percent from the three-point line. You’re just not going to win a game giving up those types of shooting percentages. It’s not like we played bad; we put up 58 points. It’s just that every time we’d get within two or three possessions, they’d hit us.”
From the opening tip, the Bobcats struggled to slow the Flyers as Ironton St. Joseph jumped out to a 6-0 lead to begin the contest off of two low-post buckets from Chase Walters. Ever the marksman, Tanner Kimbler came right back with a pair of long-range bombs to allow Green to tie the score at eight apiece in the first half, but a 7-0 run by Ironton St. Joseph — behind five straight points from Clay Willis — allowed the Flyers to take the lead back.
St. Joe’s lead wouldn’t drop under four points over the remainder of the first half of play as an effective chaser strategy forced Kimbler to play the role of distributor rather than scorer for the vast majority of the contest. A sprained ankle that Tayte Carver obtained just past the midway point of the first quarter made the uphill climb more difficult for the Bobcats, as Green faced a 37-25 first-half deficit behind a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Jimmy Mahlmeister.
“We didn’t push the ball as much as I would’ve liked to in the first half,” Hollar said. “It also really hurt that Tayte Carver twisted his ankle,” Hollar said. “He was not the same. He was out there playing his guts out. He was trying to grit out the injury, but he wasn’t himself. He wasn’t Tayte, and we’ve all seen him. We know he’s one heck of a basketball player.”
Green, however, never quit. Despite a second-half opening bucket from McDavid that put the Bobcats down 39-25, Hollar’s club fought back behind the energy of Blizzard and Sampson. The duo’s activity in the lane and on the glass led to 11 points between the pair in a four-minute span, which allowed Green to go on a 17-7 run that cut the lead to 46-42 with 2:55 to play in the third quarter of action.
“When we started our comeback in the second half, we started pushing the ball to the rack, and that’s what we’ve got to do from the beginning,” Hollar said.
Then, when the Flyers pushed the lead back out to 10 behind four consecutive points from Walters and a McDavid jumper, Sampson followed by garnering five straight points, including a thrilling buzzer-beater from halfcourt that cut the St. Joe lead to 52-47 at the end of the period.
“I told them at halftime, ‘We’ve got to get this kid (Gage Sampson) the ball,’” Hollar said. “We were out there looking for threes, but we’ve got to go inside every now and then. If we don’t go inside to him, we’re not going to win basketball games. Most of Gage’s points were in transition there in the second half.”
But with the game on the line, McDavid proved to be too strong. After another huge three-pointer from Blizzard got Green within three, 55-52, the Ashland transfer nailed two threes, including a critical shot with 1:53 to go after St. Joe took nearly a minute off of the fourth quarter clock to increase the lead to 64-56, then played effective defense on Kimbler — who had a team-high 20 for Green — the rest of the way en route to doing the job of both ends.
“I wish (McDavid) would’ve stayed in Ashland (Ky.), man,” Hollar said, chuckling. “One of the refs said, ‘He hasn’t missed a shot!’ I said, ‘Yea, I wish he would’ve stayed in Ashland. I need to call Ashland’s coach (Jeremy Howell) and say, ‘Hey, can you come back and get him? Just a phenomenal basketball player. We knew he was good, but we didn’t know that he was that good. He just put on a show. Congrats to them.”
Even with the loss, the bout — which dropped Green to 3-1 overall — still serves as a solid experience for the Bobcats, in Hollar’s eyes. And with Eastern coming into Cat Country on Tuesday evening, it’s an experience that he knows is much-needed for his unit.
“It was a good non-conference game, and we knew that Ironton St. Joseph was good,” Hollar said. “We needed to be in this type of game.“
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT