LUCASVILLE — Already a full week into December, and with the Valley Indians opening their new boys basketball season on Tuesday night, junior Jace Copley —clearly —was ready and eager to drop some buckets.
But the now six-foot and three-inch and physically bigger Copley wasn’t alone, and his Indians’ teammates —the other five which played —provided plenty of supporting acting.
That’s because Copley went off for almost half of Valley’s points —as the Indians officially opened their season with a 58-46 Southern Ohio Conference Division II triumph over archrival Northwest, and in front of a good crowd on The Reservation.
Yes, it was in fact Valley’s home, season and SOC II opener all in one fell swoop —while the Mohawks had played two tilts and won against non-league SOC I foes, Clay (56-25) in the opener and Notre Dame (55-43) on Friday night.
The Indians are also coming off a Division IV district championship campaign, in which they went 20-5 — and also strongly challenged for the SOC II title.
Valley’s most significant graduation loss was six-foot and four-inch Bryce Stuart, along with rotation piece Tucker Merritt.
Against Northwest on Tuesday, the Indians only trailed in the second half for the opening minute —erasing a 27-25 deficit with a pair of Copley baskets, part of his half-dozen two-point goals as Valley never trailed again.
With the improving Mohawks still struggling with varying bouts of illness impacting the squad, physical fatigue from a seven-man rotation started settling in —and the Indians’ opportunities off Northwest turnovers and missed shots only increased.
From a 25-25 halftime tie, Valley outscored the Mohawks 33-21 in the second 16 minutes —and opened up an advantage as large as 58-44 with 39 seconds showing, on Colt Buckle’s second pair of two made free throws for the game.
While Copley’s game-high 26 points on six deuces, four treys and 2-of-2 third-quarter free throws served as the headlining —and often showstopping — performance, his supporting cast contributed in different ways.
It’s what second-year Valley head coach Craig Tackett was looking for, and hoping for, in the late opener.
“For the first game, I think it was good for us. Jace (Copley) came out and had a great game, doing exactly everything that we needed him to do. And that was with them (Mohawks) face-guarding him. Jace just didn’t give in. His goal was to come out and win this basketball game at all costs,” said Tackett. “That was the attitude we had in the locker-room. It was our first game and their third. We have a late start, so that anticipation only builds. Everyone knows that you feel better after you get that first game in. Jace hit some big shots and played really well, and we had some guys around him that gave a lot of effort. Levi (Stewart), Colt (Buckle) and George (Arnett) all played really well. Carter (Nickel) did a lot of things that don’t show up on the stat sheet, and Hunter (Edwards) comes in with that energy off the bench. So I thought for the first game, we did pretty well.”
But Copley had the hottest hand —hitting all four of his threes in the first half, plus a good first-quarter drive.
Copley’s back-to-back corner-pocket three-balls made it 18-13 with 23 seconds left in the first —followed by his fourth, which made it 21-14 only 37 seconds into the second stanza.
He then scored three straight baskets for a 31-27 Valley edge only two minutes into the third, as his fourth-quarter field goals made it 48-42 and 56-44.
Northwest coach Rick Scarberry said Copley was the quite handful for his Mohawks, as six-two junior standout Connor Lintz guarded him hard —and sacrificed some of his offense as a result.
Lintz, in fact, has been the main cog in the Mohawks’ machine battling the program’s present flu bug.
Lintz scored 11 first-half points, including three first-quarter twos —as his only three-point goal a minute-and-a-half into the second quarter reduced the deficit to 21-17.
“All of our kids have been sick through some point in the preseason. Connor (Lintz) was out an entire week, and I thought that caught up to him tonight. He is trying to tote the load for us offensively, then he is guarding one of the better players in our area. I thought that was a tough task for him, and we played seven guys, some more than others,” said Scarberry. “Copley can shoot it on you, he can take it to the basket on you, he is smart, savvy and dribbles it well. It was a tough matchup for Connor.”
But the Indians have other options as well.
There were four lead changes through the first 14 minutes —as Buckle scored six first-period points, six-foot eight-inch senior center Levi Stewart scored two baskets, and George Arnett added a first-quarter split of free throws.
All three are seniors, as Buckle finished with a dozen points on four field goals and 4-of-5 foul shots, and Arnett amounted 11 —including two second-half twos and two third-quarter threes.
A Hunter Edwards reverse layup made it 33-27 halfway through the third, Carter Nickel split a pair of third-quarter free throws for a 39-32 lead, and Stewart’s rebound putback made it 50-42.
Stewart grabbed 13 rebounds, as his height and wingspanned paint presence kept the Mohawks outside the lane — and living on the perimeter.
Combine that with Northwest growing tired, and ultimately the Indians were able to begin to pull away.
“That was the goal. Keep them in front, and keep them from getting to the rim. If we can make them shoot over us, and make them shoot from outside, then we were going to be better off. That’s why we didn’t go out in our press, and that’s why we just set back in the half-court and kept them in front,” said Tackett. “As long as Levi Stewart stays straight up defensively and tries to alter shots, I think he did a good job just clogging that lane up tonight. Anybody that tries to get to the rim, when you see that 6-8 body coming at you, that changes your mind. Our goal was to force outside shots.”
Some of which the Mohawks made, including eight three-pointers.
Caleb Lewis landed a triple —along with Jay Jenkins and Kory Butler in the opening quarter and Lintz’s three in the second —to get Northwest within 46-42 only 53 seconds into the fourth.
But Valley, despite missing seven of 15 free throws, outscored Northwest 12-4 for the remainder of the game.
The Mohawks’ only other points were Logan Wolfenbarker’s free throws with a minute-and-a-half left, and Tanner Bolin bucketing the final field goal for the 58-46 final.
Bolin bagged four three-pointers in the middle two cantos towards a team-high 14 points, keeping the Mohawks within striking distance.
“I thought we got a little fatigued, and I don’t want to blame it on the flu, but it hasn’t helped us any for sure. The mental breakdowns happen when you are fatigued. Guys got a little tired, it was a physical game, and we had to play so hard just to remain in it,” said Scarberry. “When we were making those shots, we were right where we needed to be. When we got fatigued, the legs go, and we start missing some easy shots. I thought our kids did a good job adjusting to multiple-changing defenses, but we missed about seven layups. That’s 14 points, that’s your ballgame. And the (Levi) Stewart kid did a nice job inside, we let him become a factor blocking some shots.”
Northwest could use the rest, but Waverly will invade Roy Rogers Country on Friday night for another SOC II bout.
Scarberry said his club will recover and get healthy with time the best it can.
“We’re happy with where we are. We just played one of the better teams in the area and in the league, so we can play with anybody if we play hard. We have to clean up some mistakes and make some shots, but we’ll but bounce back,” he said.
For the Indians, of course, there is always improvement room following the season lid-lifter.
There will have to be too, as the Indians invade Minford on Friday night for a key early-season SOC II showdown.
“We saw some stuff that works for us and what didn’t work for us. Both defensively and offensively. Now we have some actual game film on ourselves to go back and look at. We made some mistakes down the stretch, and there are things we need to do better, as far as setting screens and things like that from an execution standpoint. But I think tonight we faced a lot of adversity and we overcame it,” said Tackett. “We continued to try to battle and see what we could get. We didn’t lay down and give into that fatigue. I was proud of that and glad we got this one out of the way with a win.”
* * *
Northwest 13 12 14 7— 46
Valley 18 7 19 14—58
NORTHWEST 46 (2-1, 0-1 SOC II)
Connor Lintz 4-25 11, Caleb Lewis 1 0-0 3, Jay Jenkins 3 0-0 7, Tanner Bolin 5 0-0 14, Kory Butler 2 0-0 5, Logan Wolfenbarker 0 2-2 2, Alex Baer 2 0-0 4; TOTALS 17 4-7 46; Three-point field goals: 8 (Tanner Bolin 4, Connor Lintz, Caleb Lewis, Jay Jenkins and Kory Butler 1 apiece)
VALLEY 58 (1-0, 1-0 SOC II)
George Arnett 4 1-2 11, Hunter Edwards 1 0-0 2, Colt Buckle 4 4-5 12, Carter Nickel 0 1-2 1, Jace Copley 10 2-2 26, Levi Stewart 3 0-4 6; TOTALS 22 8-15 58; Three-point field goals: 6 (Jace Copley 4, George Arnett 2)