Tuesday night in South Webster, the Jeeps had to fend off a furious comeback at the hands of the Northwest Mohawks to escape with a win.
In an affair that lasted until the clock struck zero, South Webster outlasted Northwest 57-53.
“As Christmas break is coming up, we definitely wanted to get this win tonight,” Jeeps head coach Brenton Cole said. “It started with West [on Friday], and we needed to get West. Not to leave out the Notre Dame victory, but we’re really concentrating on these SOC II schools.”
The victory pushes South Webster’s record to 4-2 on the year, including a 4-1 mark in conference play.
With the loss, the Mohawks now find themselves at 2-5 and 0-5 in the SOC.
Starting off the contest, both teams traded tough baskets. Kyle Leslie opened the scoring for Northwest with a fierce drive in the lane, hitting a layup and drawing contact.
Leslie would miss the free throw, but the Mohawks struck first. The senior would score 11 points in the game.
On the other end, the Jeeps countered with an and one of their own from Shiloah Blevins, who would hit his free throw.
Blevins had a game-high 17 points on a quiet shooting night, with just nine points through the first three quarters.
Northwest chose to attack Blevins with senior Garrett Rowe, who put some pressure on South Webster’s star throughout.
“We put Garrett Rowe on him who did a fantastic job, and we were just fronting him and denying him the whole way,” Mohawks head coach Jason Smith said. “We kind of did a triangle on him, basically no help defense and we just stayed on him.”
“As soon as he came across half court we were denying everything, and basically just wanted the ball out of his hands. We give him 17 [points], I like our chances. He’s an unbelievable athlete, and unbelievable player, and you give him an inch and he’s going to score.”
Both sides would trade scores early and throughout the first quarter, with Jeeps leading 11-10 after one.
In the second quarter, South Webster was able to create some separation due in large part to a 9-0 run dating back to the first.
Sophomore Devyn Coriell hit a free throw to start the period, but missed his second. Fortunately for him, junior Jacob Witter scooped up the miss and stuck it in the bottom of the net to give the Jeeps a 14-10 lead.
Witter was big off the bench, as he has been all season for South Webster. He credits his mentality off the pine as being a factor in his success.
“Whenever I come off the bench, I’m like what can I do to get me a starting spot,” Witter said. “How can I help me team to pull off a W? I came out tonight and worked my butt off, just doing everything I can for the team.”
After Witter’s score, South Webster got a triple from sophomore Andrew Smith nearly a minute later.
Smith would total nine points on the night, with three made three-pointers.
With Northwest blanketing Blevins, players like Smith were able to step up on plays where Blevins was covered.
“Most of them are just reads off of Shiloah Blevins,” Smith said about his scoring chances. “Usually we’re focused on him in our scoring, but sometimes it ends up that they all collapse.”
Cole knew heading in to the game that other kids would need to step up around Blevins for his Jeeps to succeed.
“I told them all that tonight everyone was going to have a role,” Cole said. “They have a big strong guy [in Leslie], but we have a couple big strong guys that we can use.”
One of those big, strong guys was sophomore Brayden Bockway who gave South Webster quality minutes when Josiah Edwards found himself in early foul trouble.
Bockway canned a three-pointer with 4:45 left in the second to stretch the lead to 23-15.
“Brayden Bockway came in off the bench and hit a big three, and played some defense blocking a shot or two,” Cole said. “He did well in the limited minutes he had.”
While the Jeeps did most of their damage from beyond the arc (5-9 in the first half), Northwest was struggling considerably with their long-range shooting (1 for 9 in the first half).
As a result, the Mohawks trailed 31-22 heading in to the locker room.
Benton knew that Northwest wasn’t going to keep missing from deep as the game progressed.
“They can shoot the ball,” Cole said about the Mohawks. “I told the guys at halftime, don’t expect this to happen in the second half.”
Coach Smith told his Northwest squad to keep firing, because he knew that he had capable shooters stretching the floor.
“I just told them the shots will fall, we’ve just got to keep being aggressive,” Smith said. “We didn’t drive in the lane near as much as I wanted to, we got content with shooting threes, and to be successful you’ve got to do both.”
“In the second half, we got to the basket a whole lot more and was able to kick it out and get some open looks. Luckily, they started going in.”
As the Mohawks reverted to more of an inside-outside game, the lead for South Webster diminished.
Rowe was big time in the third quarter, splashing two three-pointers to help shrink the lead.
A Mason Campbell three pulled Northwest within three, 38-35 with 3:40 to go in the third.
Several possessions later, Hunter Berry knotted things up with an and-one on a gorgeous drive to the basket that was finished with a foul and made free throw.
Berry had eight points in the game.
Coriell took the lead back for the Jeeps with a basket off an offensive rebound with 52 seconds in the quarter, which was enough to give South Webster a 40-38 advantage heading in to the final quarter.
The Jeeps outworked the Mohawks in second chance scoring, with nine points compared to Northwest’s four.
Still, South Webster squandered their lead in the third quarter, which seems to be a recurring issue thus far in a young season.
“I tell them that third quarter coming out, I try to get them ready,” Cole said. “It just seems to be our Achilles heel right now, that third quarter. It’s rough for us, and we’ve really got to turn the corner on that.”
In the final frame, both teams looked to battle for momentum and an answer to give their side the lead for good.
Each school went back and forth, but early it was the Mohawks who claimed their first lead since being up 10-8 in the first quarter on a triple from Rowe with 6:19 to go.
Exchanging counter punches, neither was able to get an edge early in the fourth.
Campbell created a play for himself on a beautiful drive with 3:48 to play, finishing at the rim with a circus shot that put Northwest up 49-48 in what was perhaps the play of the game for the Mohawks.
On the night, Campbell scored a team-high 15 points.
“He’s been playing outstanding,” Smith said. “For us to be successful, he’s got to get going and feed everybody.”
“Tonight, he was hitting some big shots, and he’s been doing a real good job of getting to that foul line area and hitting that midrange jumper.”
After the Campbell point, both teams slowed down their scoring. Jacob Ruth made one free throw with 1:50 left to tie the game at 49 apiece.
Northwest couldn’t answer to reclaim the lead, and the Jeeps made them pay with a Blevins jumper from the right corner with 1:31 to play.
Following that basket, the Mohawks hung tight and got a few more points, but just couldn’t come back.
Coriell hit four big free throws down the stretch, and Blevins added a pair as well to put the game on ice at 57-53.
“Towards the end of the game, we were trying to find Shiloah,” Coriell said. “They were running a box and one and guarding him, so someone else had to step up and I just happened to be that guy.”
For Coriell, his 14 points scored were a career high in varsity play.
The win was huge for South Webster, but the Jeeps aren’t overlooking anyone in the conference or letting the victory get to their heads.
“I think we have some confidence, but I hope we don’t get that in our heads that we can just beat anybody,” Witter said. “We’ve got to come out here and we’ve got to bring it every day.”
South Webster (4-2, 4-1) will travel to Oak Hill (7-0, 4-0) on Friday night.
As for Northwest, the fight is apparent. It just comes down to playing a complete game for the Mohawks.
“I’m very pleased with the effort, the guys have been working so hard,” Smith said. “We’re 2-5 and our record does not indicate the work they’re putting in … We’re in every game, and we have opportunities. But, that’s the difference between great teams and good teams.”
“If we can figure out how to come out in the first half and play hard, we would be a lot better. We come in at halftime, we always regroup, and fight, fight, fight in the second half.”
There’s no love lost between Smith and his players even though the season might not have started as planned.
“I love Northwest and I love my kids, I wouldn’t trade them for nothing,” Smith said. “Good things are happening, we’re really on the cusp of being a good team. We’ve just got to keep staying together and stay focused, and the wins will come.”
The Mohawks (2-5, 0-5) will host Valley (0-5, 0-5) on Friday night.
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 on Twitter @BSpicerPDT or at Facebook.com/ReporterBenSpicer