McDERMOTT — It was finally the first Friday night in February in which Wheelersburg and Northwest met up on the boys basketball court.
Unfortunately for those which wanted, and expected, a highly-competitive contest in the Southern Ohio Conference Division II —that only lasted for five full minutes.
But, if you’re a Pirate fan, you’re not complaining in the least —as Wheelersburg went on a 17-0 first-half run over a span of three minutes and 49 seconds, and ultimately coasted to a 58-36 victory over the host Mohawks in Roy Rogers Country.
The affair was a second-place positioning battle in the conference behind division champion Minford —as the Pirates raised their records to 14-5 and 10-3, while the Mohawks slipped to 13-5 and 8-5.
Minford remained undefeated in the league at 13-0, and clinched at least a championship share — as the Pirates kept their runner-up spot in place.
The two teams will meet again next week in an SOC II makeup matchup, but the Pirates —perhaps largely from Friday night’s outcome and even more so playing at home —are expected to be heavy favorites for that meeting.
That too, as the Mohawks are likely to be without junior standout Connor Lintz —who suffered a serious injury very late in the first half against the Pirates and didn’t return.
Lintz, likely, broke his collarbone on Friday night —after unfortunately breaking both collarbones as a freshman football player two years back.
He scored 11 first-half points, which featured five field goals and an old-fashioned three-point play, but committed three fouls —and was injured on his third foul with only a minute-and-a-half remaining before halftime.
By that point, though, Wheelersburg was in full control —having erased an 8-2 Northwest lead by amassing 17 unanswered points to lead 23-10.
Lintz’s three-point play at the seven-minute mark stopped the Mohawk bleeding but only momentarily, as Northwest’s only other points of the entire first half were another Lintz basket three-and-a-half minutes later.
Wheelersburg raced out to a 19-10 advantage after the opening quarter, went up 29-15 at halftime, and then ballooned its lead to as large as 47-18 following three frames.
Baskets by Caleb Arthur only 20 seconds into the fourth, and Jackson Schwamburger’s second three-pointer only a minute and 55 seconds into the last, accounted for advantages of 31 points (49-18 and 52-21) twice —which was Wheelersburg’s largest lead.
Reserves for both clubs played primarily the final full six minutes —which on paper prior to Friday night, wasn’t what many, if any, objective observers anticipated.
The Pirates, prior to Lintz’s injury even, played strong on both ends of the floor —from defensively allowing only 18 points through three cantos, to offensively shooting a sizzling 64-percent (18-of-68) from two-point territory and 54-percent (6-of-11) from three.
Wheelersburg outrebounded Northwest with a 34-26 showing, taking advantage of the Lintz-less Mohawks —either him impacted by foul trouble, or without him in the game for the final 17 minutes and 27 seconds.
It was a tale of two perspectives, per both head coaches.
“We knew Northwest was a very good basketball team, and we knew that we had to play Wheelersburg basketball. We define that as guarding, rebounding and getting out in transition. When we got behind early, we did a good job of that,” said first-year Wheelersburg coach Alex Prater. “We have to give our five seniors a lot of credit for that. There was no panic. We just had to refocus and get back to what we do and execute at a higher level. I thought we did that. I think our defense and our ball pressure had a lot to do with their offensive struggles, and I really hate it for the Lintz kid. It’s obvious that he is a good kid who works extremely hard and is a very good player. It’s unfortunate that injuries are part of the game, but I’m really proud of our kids for responding when facing adversity.”
Northwest coach Rick Scarberry said his Mohawks didn’t answer the bell — when Wheelersburg went on its first-half blitzkrieg.
The Mohawks shot 41-percent from inside the arc on 13-of-32, but made just one — a Jay Jenkins trey in the fourth quarter —from behind that line on 15 tries against the Pirates’ zone.
Jenkins with a split of free throws, and a Tanner Bolin bucket, were the only three Northwest third-period points.
Wheelersburg was also scoring on runouts in transition, as four seniors —Schwamburger, Arthur, Kaden Johnson and Nolan Wright —combined for 41 of the Pirates’ 58 points.
“We knew what Wheelersburg was going to do and what was coming at us, but we just didn’t execute,” said Scarberry. “They hit three straight threes and they were off and running. Then they jumped into their zone and we struggled shooting big time against that. We got beat down the floor consistently all night. We just didn’t do a good job in any phase of the game. The kids were prepared and we knew what to do, but you have to execute and you have to play hard. They outplayed us all over the floor. They got every loose ball, every rebound. We just didn’t do a good job. And it’s not like this team.”
The Pirates’ positive fortunes, and consequently the Mohawks’ negative struggles, started with Wright nailing three consecutive three-pointers in a matter of 50 first-quarter seconds.
Wheelersburg went up 15-10, then got a Braylon Rucker reverse layup and a Wright rebound putback prior to the quarter’s conclusion.
Schwamburger scored back-to-back to end the spree of 17 unanswered, and the Mohawks —with Lintz’s back-t0-back baskets before his injury —were within single digits only once more.
The Pirates scored the final six first-half points —as Northwest amounted only eight points over a span of 20 minutes and 18 seconds.
Wright went off for a game-high 17 points on three deuces, his three first-quarter treys and 2-of-3 free throws — while Schwamburger scored a dozen on five total field goals including two triples.
Arthur added eight points, Connor Estep scored seven, Rucker racked up six, and Johnson pitched in four.
“I felt we had a really aggressive mindset,” said Prater. “Each guy was bought into doing their role and was aggressive in that role. Nolan (Wright) got us going with his three threes to change the momentum, then a lot of really good defensive efforts as well. Jackson’s ball pressure in that stretch was crucial to help turn them over and get some of those possessions going. I thought Zavier (Stanley), Caleb (Arthur) and Kaden (Johnson) all did a phenomenal job inside for us, getting out and covering shooters and also rebounding the ball. Everybody bought into being aggressive within their roles for us to be successful.”
Bolin, who scored six field goals and a perfect 5-of-5 fourth-frame free throws, bucketed 17 points to tie Wright and lead all scorers — as 11 of those were in the fourth quarter, matching Lintz’s 11 for his first-half and only minutes.
Jenkins added six —his three and his two coming in the last.
The Mohawks’ non-league game at Rock Hill on Tuesday night was postponed —due to the flu circulating among both teams.
“We didn’t get the effort tonight (Friday night) that we got Tuesday night (57-55 win over South Webster). We just struggled tonight,” said Scarberry. “We have to regroup and get ready to work again. If we’re without Connor (Lintz), that changes a lot of things that we do.”
For the Pirates, it’s a full week of ending the regular season —against arguably the top three SOC II teams besides them.
“Even with the slow start, we bounced back quickly and played well tonight,” said Prater. “We continue to preach consistency, and we’ve seen that as the season has gone on. Our schedule is very tough here down the stretch with Valley, Minford and Northwest again. But that’s great, because it’s going to prepare us for our tournament run. Which is really where our focus is right now, and trying to get better every day.”
* * *
Wheelersburg 19 10 18 11 —58
Northwest 10 5 3 18—36
WHEELERSBURG 58 (14-5, 10-3 SOC II)
Braylon Rucker 3 0-1 6, Connor Estep 3 0-0 7, Xander Mowery 1 0-0 2, Nolan Wright 6 2-3 17, Jacob Shaw 0 0-0 0, Luke Swords 0 0-0 0, Kenyon Evans 0 0-0 0, Jackson Schwamburger 5 0-0 12, Sammy Doerr 0 0-0 0, Hunter Bivens 0 0-0 0, Landon McGraw 1 0-0 2, Caleb Arthur 3 2-4 8, Logan Adkins 0 0-0 0, Kaden Johnson 2 0-0 4, Zavier Stanley 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 24 4-8 58; Three-point field goals: 6 (Nolan Wright 3, Jackson Schwamburger 2, Connor Estep 1)
NORTHWEST 36 (13-5, 8-5 SOC II)
Connor Lintz 5 1-1 11, Logan Shepherd 1 0-0 2, Caleb Lewis 0 0-0 0, Zane Fry 0 0-0 0, Jay Jenkins 2 1-2 6, Jake Brown 0 0-0 0, Tanner Bolin 6 5-5 17, Nick Hayslip 0 0-0 0, Kory Butler 0 0-0 0, Logan Wolfenbarker 0 0-0 0, Alex Baer 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 14 7-8 36; Three-point field goals: 1 (Jay Jenkins 1)