PORTSMOUTH —Resembling a lockdown rockfight for a small-schools non-league boys basketball game, all it took for some South Webster energy was an Eli Roberts reversal of fortunes for the second half.
That, and maybe more importantly even, matching “magic” numbers with the scoreboard AND chalkboard.
That’s because the six-foot and seven-inch sophomore standout Roberts, after a three-foul and two-point first half, spearheaded the Jeeps’ charge in the second.
Roberts splashed two winged three-pointers, fired up the Jeep bench by firing himself up first, opened the quarter with a pair of free throws, and anchored South Webster’s fourth-quarter defensive effort —in which the host Notre Dame Titans only scored five points.
The end result was a key 39-36 defensive-oriented victory for the visiting Jeeps —over the like Division IV Titans, as these two could see each other again come Southeast District tournament time come late February or even early March.
But for Saturday night’s mid-January get-together, which was a full-house affair at Notre Dame High School, it was South Webster’s defense doing the job —stymieing the Titans to 15 second-half points and taking the lead with a dozen third-quarter seconds remaining.
Up until that point, there were three ties, with the Titans taking the lead only a minute-and-a-half in —and ultimately leading 19-11 exactly halfway through the second canto.
But the Jeeps finished the final four first-half minutes on a 9-2 run, finally seized the lead (32-31) on a Connor Bender steal and split of free throws, and led by as much as 37-31 —when Roberts rained in a three-pointer and roared out with electricity.
A Tyler Sommer stickback basket made it 39-36, with three-and-a-half minutes left —and the score remained the same while the Titans tried for the tie with the game winding down in regulation.
The Jeeps missed a pair of front ends of the one-and-one bonus free-throw situation, leaving the Notre Dame door ajar —but Titan turnovers and South Webster with three fouls to give limited ND’s opportunities inside the final 18 seconds.
On the game’s final possession, the Titans tried to run a set, but the ball got deflected loose amid a mild scramble at the top of the key —as it ended up in senior Carter Campbell’s hands on the right wing.
Campbell’s three-point attempt appeared online, and it hit the rim but bounced off —thus leaving the frustrated and now 8-5 Titans with their third consecutive loss and by a combined 11 points.
The now 10-3 Jeeps, conversely, were joyous to capture such a resume-building win.
SWHS coach Brenton Cole complimented his Jeeps’ defense sparking their offense, especially following the opening quarter.
In fact, the Jeeps’ 36 points allowed matched the exact number written on the board in the halftime locker-room.
“It’s crazy, because that’s the number we had on the board at half. Hold them to 36 and we probably come out of here with a victory. We got after it more, just trying to speed the ball up and moving quicker, and it definitely benefited us to get steals and shoot layups. That was definitely the gameplan coming out of halftime, instead of moving the ball and moving the ball versus their zone,” said Cole. “After the first three or four minutes of the first quarter, it was throw it inside, stand and watch. We got moving quicker after that and starting making some shots and getting some stops.”
South Webster went for its most important stop, and got it, on the Titans’ final possession.
“We had three fouls there to give, so we wanted to eat some time off the clock and put them in a different position. It does get harder once there is less time to make those passes and scramble. We doubled on (Cody) Metzler at the top, the ball got to Campbell and he drew iron,” said Cole. “From the angle I was at, it looked like it was going in. Super-nervous time at that point, but it rimmed out.”
NDHS mentor Matt Mader praised his squad for holding the Jeeps to under 40, but plays just didn’t pan out down the Notre Dame stretch.
Nor did the Titans make more than one trip to the free-throw line.
That’s correct —as only a Campbell split for that 19-11 ND lead did it come close to the charity stripe.
“South Webster has a nice basketball team, and I thought we did a nice job defensively to hold them to under 40. If you would have told me we would have held them to under 40, I would say we definitely had a chance to win,” said Mader. “We talked about getting to the foul line. They had three team fouls there late and they fouled a couple of times when we had some stuff set up at the end. On the last possession, we had a play drawn up for Cody (Metzler), but the ball got loose and it went over to Carter (Campbell). He had an open look at it, but it hit the rim and we didn’t get the offensive rebound.”
Speaking of rebounding, it was a bounce-back second-half performance for Roberts — who tallied a team-high 10 points.
“Eli came alive there in the second half. When we drive his man and he pops out, it’s tough to stop him when he shooting well. He picked it up and hit a couple of threes for us,” said C0le.
So did senior Jaren Lower in the opening half as the Jeeps made their comeback, including his second three-pointer which got South Webster within 21-20 at halftime.
Bender bagged a triple for a 28-25 deficit with 3:45 to play in the third, as Roberts’ first trey tied it at 28-28 just 57 seconds later —followed by Will Collins immediately answering Myles Phillips’ three for Notre Dame, and which tied it at 31-31.
Roberts then scored his five fourth-quarter points, including his free throws only 27 seconds in and before his spirits-lifting — and ultimately difference-making — three-pointer.
Besides Roberts, the 6-3 senior forward Collins — who defended Notre Dame’s 6-7 senior center Dominic Sparks — scored two first-quarter field goals and free throws towards nine points, as Bender tied Lower with six and Christian White tied Sommer with two baskets apiece.
As both teams played primarily zone, and relied at times heavily upon the outside shot, Notre Dame held a 15-14 advantage in total field goals —but South Webster was 5-of-8 at the line.
“We tried to mix some things up and give them different looks, and for almost four quarters it was working,” said Mader.
Notre Dame’s 6-2 junior Cody Metzler poured in a game-high 16 points on two deuces and four treys —as Sparks scored four field goals for eight points, Aaryn Bradford bucketed three for six, and Landon Barbarits scored a basket off a steal for the Titans’ lead in the game.
But the Titans totaled 20 more points in the final 23 minutes and 13 seconds —after racing out to a 16-9 lead.
“South Webster is a good defensive team, and we didn’t get some opportunities at the basket in the second half by turning the ball over. That was the difference in the game, and taking care of the basketball was one of the keys going in. We tried to take advantage of our size underneath, and getting (Eli) Roberts in foul trouble early helped us build the lead, but he hits a couple of second-half shots to propel them,” said Mader. “I was super-proud of the effort of our kids and how we responded late to make a game of it, but we just came up a little short. Our kids deserve some credit too. They came to play tonight.”
And so did the Jeeps —winning a lockdown rockfight towards Southeast District Division IV seeding jockeying.
Cole said he wouldn’t be surprised for a South Webster with Notre Dame rematch in the postseason tournament.
“A tough place to play, but this was a great atmosphere down here tonight. A packed house. It just gets you ready for the tournament,” he said. “This is a really good resume win against a good Notre Dame team. They did a great job with different schemes and holding Eli down definitely in the first half. It could happen that we see them again.”
* * *
South Webster 9 11 12 7 —39
Notre Dame 14 7 10 5— 36
SOUTH WEBSTER 39 (10-3)
Connor Bender 2 1-3 6, Christian White 2 0-1 4, Dylan Shupert 0 0-0 0, Owen Mault 0 0-0 0, Jaren Lower 2 0-0 6, Tyler Sommer 2 0-0 4, Eli Roberts 3 2-2 10, Will Collins 3 2-2 9; TOTALS 14 5-8 39; Three-point field goals: 6 (Jaren Lower and Eli Roberts 2 apiece, Connor Bender and Will Collins 1 apiece)
NOTRE DAME 36 (8-5)
Landon Barbarits 1 0-0 2, Aaryn Bradford 3 0-0 6, Cody Metzler 6 0-0 16, Carter Campbell 0 1-2 1, Myles Phillips 1 0-0 3, Dominic Sparks 4 0-0 8; TOTALS 15 1-2 36; Three-point field goals: 5 (Cody Metzler 4, Myles Phillips 1)