Green goes deep to top Titans


FRANKLIN FURNACE — For the past three seasons, and into late 2022 and now 2023, the “Furnace” has been the land of “Levi” —literally and figuratively.

There are three four-year senior members of the Green Bobcats boasting the first name “Levi”, spearheaded by six-foot and four-inch Levi Sampson —and his two-time Division IV second-team all-Ohio boys basketball accolades.

However, on Friday night in the Bobcats’ titanic Southern Ohio Conference Division I tilt against the visiting Notre Dame Titans, it was actually “Knapp” time.

As in six-foot and three-inch freshman Jon Knapp.

That’s because Knapp knocked down four corner-pocket three-pointers, part of nine three-point makes for the Sampson-reliant Bobcats, as Green erased an early 16-8 deficit only 28 seconds into the second canto —capturing a critical 56-49 victory over the Titans in a first-place affair for the SOC I.

That’s right — Green took a dozen three-point attempts, and hit 75-percent worth of them.

Knapp nailed four from the corner, 6-2 senior Gabe McBee bucketed three in the second half including one to beat the third-quarter buzzer, and fellow senior Levi Blevins bagged back-to-back second-stanza threes —as part of a personal eight unanswered period points, which forged a 16-16 tie at the 4:48 mark.

A minute later, Knapp scored off a Sampson assist for the Bobcats’ lead —one which they never relinquished, and actually opened up a pair of 16-point advantages (52-36 and 54-38) late in the fourth.

Both Notre Dame and Green entered the Franklin Furnace full house undefeated in the SOC I, as the Bobcats raised their league record to 6-0 —part of now 9-3 all told.

It’s been quite the turnaround for the Bobcats under first-year head coach J.D. King, as although Sampson’s star shined brightly the past two and even three years —Green greatly, easily arguably, underachieved as a team.

As the SOC I wrapped up the front half of double round-robin play on Tuesday night, and the Bobcats traveled to New Boston, these Bobcats are right where they want to be.

“It’s a lot easier to be the hunter than the hunted, but this atmosphere and packed house here tonight, we hope to have a few more like this here at home. This feels good, we should celebrate it, be proud and happy for ourselves, but the only thing winning should do is make you more humble,” said King. “We still have to work, because we have every team chasing us now.”

The Titans, which fell to 7-3 and 4-1 in the league, spent the final two-and-a-half quarters chasing the Bobcats —but only got as close as a 29-29 tie for the game’s third and final, once Green gained the lead.

In all, the Bobcats’ second-quarter runs over a four-minute span were 13 unanswered for a 21-16 edge, as Knapp’s second consecutive corner trifecta forged a 24-18 advantage only a minute later.

For those into counting, that’s a 16-2 spree over five full minutes —as Notre Dame only scored six points in the entire second period.

Those were baskets by Carter Campbell, Cody Metzler and Landon Barbarits, as Green got the pace to its slower liking —and stymied the Titans to 17 points over the middle two stanzas.

Over that same span, the Bobcats doubled them up with 35 points —with Knapp netting two more threes in the third, and McBee basically bookending the quarter with triples, including his buzzer-beater which upped the lead to a dozen (43-31).

And, all of this Green was doing —with the machine Sampson scoring only 13 points, which was half his season average (25 ppg).

Last year, his points per game average was at 26-and-a-half.

“If you ask me if we win with Levi (Sampson) only scoring 13, I probably would have told you ‘no’. But we have other guys who can score. We haven’t shot the ball particularly well from the outside, but we know we have guys who can shoot the ball,” said King. “We were waiting for the right time, and I am glad it came tonight.”

NDHS veteran coach Matt Mader concurred.

“Levi (Sampson) obviously was our focus, making it tough on him to catch it. Once he catches it, we’re going to collapse on him, and make him get rid of it or put up a tough shot. If you would have told me at the end of the game that he had only had 13…,” said Mader. “Gotta give Green’s other guys credit, going 9-of-12 from three. We didn’t expect that, but they shot it really well tonight in their own gym.”

Sampson did lead the Bobcats in rebounds with unofficially eight, but Knapp’s team-high 16 points, McBee’s second-half 11, and Blevins’ second-quarter eight all lifted Green to triumph in this one.

Throw in Abe McBee’s three first-quarter baskets, and 2-of-5 second-half free throws, and it takes the pressure off Sampson scoring —or at least shooting —on every possession.

By making major perimeter shots, the Bobcats didn’t have to contend with —as much —Notre Dame’s physicality and size.

Dominic Sparks stands at six-feet and seven inches tall, and Campbell and Metzler are both 6-2.

Knapp netted a career-high 19 in the Bobcats’ win at Clay a month ago, but his scoring 16 had much greater impact against the Titans.

“We work a lot on shooting in practice, and we stay vigilant with it. It’s not our number-one strength, but you’ve got to be able to shoot the ball at times to keep teams honest,” said King. “We really needed it tonight. They are big and physical and are a great defensive team. Against good competition, you’ve got to be able to knock down shots to loosen them up a little bit. I’m glad it came tonight, and I’m glad we had guys ready and willing to take those shots.”

It did take the Bobcats inside the final minute making sure they held on, as Campbell’s second three of the quarter cut the Notre Dame deficit to 54-47 — with 31 seconds to play.

Following six straight trips worth of consecutive turnovers, and Green missing six of its opening eight fourth-quarter free throws, the Bobcats withstood the muddied-up final minute and 41 seconds —as Abe McBee and Sampson split a pair of double-bonus free throws inside the final 25 seconds.

“Fortunately, we had ourselves the lead late. There’s no reason why we turned the ball over the way we did during that stretch,” said King.

But Notre Dame didn’t take advantage, and committed 14 turnovers itself —while making only 3-of-11 (27-percent) from three-point territory, part of 19-of-43 (44-percent) overall.

“We didn’t quit and we fought to the end, but we just didn’t make some shots to get into our pressure and try to speed them up,” said Mader. “We did a nice job of turning them over, but didn’t convert on the other end. The kids showed some resiliency, and fought to the end.”

Campbell in particular, whose rebound putback at the buzzer made for the 56-49 final —and his 11th and final point of the quarter and 20th and final point of the game.

He split a pair of first-quarter foul shots, made four more baskets before the fourth —and finally drained a pair of threes sandwiched around an old-fashioned three-point play.

He finished 8-of-11 from the field, and grabbed six boards.

Metzler muscled for a dozen points and eight rebounds, as Barbarits added eight points and Sparks scored seven on three field goals and a split of free throws —all in the opening salvo.

But the Bobcats soon switched to a zone defense to slow Sparks down, as Notre Dame didn’t get the pace quickened back enough — following its 16-8 start.

“We went to Dom (Sparks) early, but they changed up defenses. Carter (Campbell) shot the ball well and got to the glass, did a nice job down the stretch and wanted the basketball and was very aggressive,” said Mader. “But those big threes that they made were the difference in the game. The three-ball really bit us tonight.”

Still, it was just the first 10 days of January —so plenty of basketball left to be played in a competitive SOC I.

“I know this was a big game and you wanted to win it, but it’s early in the season and we still control our own destiny,” said Mader. “Green was very physical tonight and their zone did a nice job on our drives and kept us out of the paint. We’ll get better from it, and there’s still a lot of league games left.”

And, league games in which the Bobcats may need to run back —the way they did for Friday night.

“Every one is big from this point out,” said King. “But can we win games and beat good teams when Levi Sampson doesn’t have his best game? Tonight showed that yes we can.”

* * *

Notre Dame 14 6 11 18 —49

Green 8 16 19 13 — 56

NOTRE DAME 49 (7-3, 4-1 SOC I)

Landon Barbarits 3 2-2 8, Aaryn Bradford 1 0-0 2, Cody Metzler 4 3-3 12, Carter Campbell 8 2-3 20, Myles Phillips 0 0-0 0, Dominic Sparks 3 1-2 7; TOTALS 19 8-10 49; Three-point field goals: 3 (Carter Campbell 2, Cody Metzler 1)

GREEN 56 (9-3, 6-0 SOC I)

Levi Blevins 3 0-0 8, Levi Sampson 4 5-10 13, Jon Knapp 6 0-0 16, Abe McBee 3 2-5 8, Levi Waddell 0 0-0 0, Gabe McBee 4 0-2 11; TOTALS 20 7-17 56; Three-point field goals: 9 (Jon Knapp 4, Gabe McBee 3, Levi Blevins 2)

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

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