MINFORD — Maybe, most likely in fact, Minford’s Myles Montgomery saved his most important play for Friday night in the form of an assist.
And, most likely, it wasn’t any of the sophomore scoring machine Montgomery’s seven field goals that were the most important for the host Falcons.
In fact, senior Adam Crank cranked up, and splashed down, a wide open corner-pocket three-pointer with a minute and 35 seconds remaining —as Montgomery made the heads-up pass.
That basket broke the Falcons’ 51-51, and 11th and final tie, with the archrival and visiting Valley Indians —and spearheaded them in the final 95 seconds towards an epic 61-57 Southern Ohio Conference Division II triumph inside a full house Falcons’ Nest at Minford High School.
Both teams, whose seasons started officially a week ago (Tuesday, Dec. 6) with SOC II and opening home wins, entered Friday’s outing at 1-0 both ways.
However, it was already an important SOC II contest — for this league championship chase should shape up to be colossal.
Minford and Valley were runners-up to Waverly a year ago, but them —along with Wheelersburg and South Webster and even Northwest, West and Oak Hill —have high hopes on capturing this season’s SOC II title.
Given the two clubs’ series split the past two years, Friday night’s encounter expected to play out close, physical and hotly-contested —and it indeed did.
“Just one heckuva game. Either team could have won. Both teams left it all out there,” said veteran Minford coach Josh Shoemaker. “It was gratifying to see us battle through adversity. We missed some shots, we left a lot of points out there in the first half. A few times we had some shots inside we should have finished, and credit to Valley for not giving up on the play. Both teams have a lot to be proud of leaving this gym. But having with the lead all fourth quarter, it was everything. It was all momentum.”
Valley second-year coach Craig Tackett concurred.
“It’s always easier playing with the lead than from behind. Just a little different pressure on your shoulders. I thought our guys battled the entire time. Regardless of the scoreboard, they knew they had to get it every possession. They sold out for each other and gave it everything they had,” said Tackett. “The back and forth throughout the game kept the crowd in it and kept the momentum going. But when you’re playing from behind, it’s always hard to get over that hump if you can’t get the lead back.”
In addition to 11 ties, there were seven lead changes, and no lead was greater than six by either side —twice by Valley in the first half (10-4 and 23-17) and once by Minford midway through the fourth quarter (47-41).
The game was tied 12-12 at the first stop, before Valley held a 26-23 halftime lead — and the Falcons forged ahead 40-39 following three frames.
But the Falcons never trailed for the final eight minutes and 44 seconds, and got arguably the biggest basket of the game to break the 11th and final tie.
That was Crank’s dead-eye drop-in three directly in front of the Falcons’ bench, as the team-high man Montgomery made the pass —for the final of Crank’s five points, and the final of Montgomery’s five assists.
Crank’s only other points were a left-handed banked-in driving basket at the five-and-a-half minute mark to make it 45-41, but his triple for the 54-51 lead lifted the Falcon faithful — four minutes later — into a frenzy.
“I told Crank he was going to hit a big shot. Because he always hits a big shot. He doesn’t look to shoot, but when it is fourth quarter and he is wide open, he comes through for us,” said Shoemaker. “That was probably the biggest shot of the game.”
It was definitely a Minford momentum-builder at a key time.
“The three-pointer in the corner was huge. Big three-point swing for them (Falcons),” said Tackett. “They had some shots that were in and out earlier, but that one went at a crucial time in the game. Changed that momentum.”
But, the next Indian possession was just as meaningful for the Falcon defense.
George Arnett missed a three-point attempt, Carter Nickel grabbed the offensive rebound in the lane, and passed the ball back out to the backcourt.
The pass wasn’t touched, though, by another Indian on their side of the timeline, the officials deemed —and instead the Indians were whistled for an over-and-back violation with a minute and seven seconds to play.
Tackett and Valley vehemently argued for a tipped ball by the Falcons before it went back beyond halfcourt, but to no avail.
With the Falcons leading 55-53, sophomore Jackson Shoemaker made 2-of-4 one-and-one free throws over a span of a dozen seconds, then Valley junior Jace Copley —who made all five of his free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter —converted a one-and-one of his own with 15-and-a-half seconds left.
On the ensuing inbounds pass, senior Levi Stewart stole the ball which was deflected by Arnett —and was fouled by Bennett Kayser, with 13.4 seconds to go.
Unfortunately for the Indians, Stewart missed both foul shots towards a possible 57-57 tie, and Kayser made up for his foul by meshing both of not one but two double-bonus foul-shot situations — with 11 and four seconds showing.
In between, with five seconds to play, Copley connected for a 59-57 Indian deficit — which actually gave him a game-high 23 points, surpassing Montgomery who paced the Falcons with 22.
Copley canned eight total field goals in addition to his 5-of-5 fourth-quarter freebies, including a pair of second-stanza three-balls.
“We knew Jace was going to come out and give us a lot,” said Tackett. “We’re putting a lot on him right now. He is getting face-guarded, but he is a scorer inside and out, and gives it everything he has. Trying to get to the rim, he is such a smart player in terms of situations and trying to get fouled. He knows what we need to have.”
His 23-point performance, in all 32 minutes, followed up his 26-point opening outing — last Tuesday night against Northwest.
“Jace (Copley) is just such a hard guard. He has been our ballboy since he was two years old. His dad (father and Valley assistant coach) Kyle (Copley) started coaching out here at Minford. All of our kids played travel basketball. We tried to make it as hard as possible for him to get open and get shots, said Coach Shoemaker. “He had 23 points, but not one of them was easy. We really did try to guard him as best we could, but I don’t think he had any easy shot tonight.”
The Indians shot 42-percent on 21-of-50 from the field, as Copley was 8-of-21 —as inside the arc the Indians were 17-of-34 (50-percent).
But Copley made just 2-of-9 three-point attempts, as Arnett attempted the Indians’ other seven —and also made two.
Copley accounted for a double-double with a dozen rebounds, as Arnett (12 points on five field goals), Colt Buckle (12 points four field goals and 4-of-4 second-half free throws) and Stewart (10 points four field goals and 2-of-4 free throws) scored as well for Valley —as its regular rotation is only six men deep.
The six-foot and eight-inch Stewart blocked five Falcon shots.
“If a couple shots fall for us that were in and out, it’s a different ballgame,” said Tackett. “We knew going in it was going to be a battle. Both teams are good and they brought everything they had. It’s like that every year with Minford. They are a great team that’s going to win a lot of games. I feel like we’re a good team that’s going to win a lot of games. You can look back and pinpoint mistakes here and there, but I think we just battled every possession, and some shots just didn’t fall for us.”
They actually didn’t fall for the Falcons, either.
The Falcons shot only 30-percent (20-of-67), including an even 28-percent (7-of-25) from three-point territory —as Montgomery, despite his team-high 22, shot 28-percent (7-of-25 overall and 4-of-12 from three-point) individually.
He made four threes through the first three periods, as he had 14 in the opening half.
His only fourth-period points, though, were 2-of-4 free throws.
Instead, Jackson Shoemaker picked up the slack —and amounted 18 points with eight field goals, including 14 points in the second 16 minutes, and 10 in the decisive final frame.
“We had to have to somebody step up. Myles was off at times, and Bennett (Kayser) was off until the very end. We just didn’t have anybody hitting shots, then Jack (Shoemaker) gave us that shot in the arm in the second half,” said Josh Shoemaker. “Jack just got to the rim, finished a couple over Levi (Stewart) which I was impressed with. When we can pull our center out to the top of the key and hit shots…”
The six-four and four-inch Shoemaker also had seven rebounds, as the other sophomore starter — the six-foot and five-inch Kayser — corralled nine —to go along with 11 points on a second-quarter deuce, a third-quarter trey, and 6-of-6 free throws.
Crank and fellow senior Joe Hannah, who stands 6-7 and is the tallest Falcon, had five points apiece.
“We start three sophomores. So as these guys continue to get experience, we expect them to only get better and better. They’ve played a lot of basketball in their lives already, a lot of big games and tournaments over the country. But this is what matters,” said Coach Shoemaker. “It’s okay to go out and beat somebody bad, but when you really want to set yourself apart, these are the games you have to win.”
The Indians, in order to keep early pace in the SOC II race, return to The Reservation on Tuesday night —for another important clash against South Webster.
The Jeeps suffered a heartbreaking 50-48 buzzer-beating loss at Wheelersburg on Friday night.
It would not be advantageous for the Indians to fall potentially two games back — in such a rugged conference race only midway through December.
“Just like with this game, it’s one game at a time. We take every game like it’s our last and give everything we’ve got each night out,” said Tackett. “Then at the end of the season, we’ll see what shakes out. We can’t get down about this loss to a really good team, we just have to keep battling and give it everything we had like we did tonight.”
Coach Shoemaker said something similar —about Minford’s win being “just one game”.
“Just proud of our kids and they worked really hard. It’s a huge game, but when we leave the gym here tonight, there’s still so much basketball. We’re 2-0 and that’s it,” he said. “Every game in the league matters. When we play at Waverly on Tuesday and against Northwest next Friday night, they could care less if we won tonight. I would say this is one of those years that the very last game is going to determine who wins the SOC.”
* * *
Valley 12 14 13 18— 57
Minford 12 11 17 21 —61
VALLEY 57 (1-1, 1-1 SOC II)
George Arnett 5 0-2 12, Hunter Edwards 0 0-0 0, Colt Buckle 4 4-4 12, Carter Nickel 0 0-0 0, Jace Copley 8 5-5 23, Levi Stewart 4 2-4 10; TOTALS 21 11-15 57; Three-point field goals: 4 (George Arnett and Jace Copley 2 apiece)
MINFORD 61 (2-0, 2-0 SOC II)
Bennett Kayser 2 6-6 11, Adam Crank 2 0-0 5, Myles Montgomery 7 4-6 22, Jeffrey Pica 0 0-0 0, Bailey White 0 0-0 0, Noah Martin 0 0-0 0, Josh Shoemaker 8 2-4 12, Joe Hannah 1 2-4 5; TOTALS 20 14-20 61; Three-point field goals: 7 (Myles Montgomery 4, Bennett Kayser, Adam Crank and Joe Hannah 1 apiece)