WHEELERSBURG — Taking home a victory over a rival, in any circumstance, is a great accomplishment.
But doing it on back-to-back days, all while holding said opponent to under 40 points overall? That is, without question, an impressive feat.
On Wednesday evening, that’s exactly what the Wheelersburg Pirates’ boys basketball program did as Steven Ater’s club, with the help of 23 huge points from Tanner Holden and 13 additional points from Cole Lowery, garnered its second victory over the Minford Falcons’ boys basketball program in as many days as Wheelersburg fended off a late Minford rally en route to claiming a 47-35 victory on its home floor.
For Ater, the defensive effort that his unit has put together over the last two evenings is certainly the optimal type of defense that he wants out of his team.
“It was a slow-paced game; a little slower than we liked, but I thought that defensively, we held (Minford) to one less point than the night before,” Ater said. “Holding them to less than 40 points on back-to-back nights, against a team that has a lot of offensive firepower, is a pretty good showing for two nights.”
In the opening quarter of action, Holden and Lowery, who have played at a very high level all season long for the Pirates, continued their excellent play as both players put Wheelersburg ahead by a 9-2 margin in the first quarter — with a massive punctuation from the former off of the right side of the lane rounding out a tremendous effort. When Minford used the play of Darius Jordan, Kelton Kelley, and Breydan Tilley to cut the Pirates’ lead to 10-7 at the end of the first quarter of action, the pair responded by scoring each of Wheelersburg’s 13 points during the second quarter of action to quickly establish control with a 23-12 halftime lead.
“I thought that Cole and Tanner played really, really well,” Ater said. “They were very efficient, did a good job controlling tempo, and got the ball where they needed to against their multiple zone looks. Tanner was good on the glass again tonight and was active down there, and Cole, who played a very fundamentally sound game, made the right pass, the right read, and played almost a flawless game tonight. In addition to that, they also were guarding the other two team’s best players (in Kelley and Cameron Dalton),” Ater said. “They had to do a lot for us tonight.”
Still, Holden and Lowery weren’t without help. In fact, the play of fellow starting hands in Mack Dyer, Connor Mullins, and J.J. Truitt were all huge as the trio aided greatly in the rebounding and ballhandling categories, respectively. Trent Salyers, Dustin Darnell, and Justin Salyers were also critical in not only their overall minutes, but from a spacing standpoint as each of the trio were big in Wheelersburg’s ability to effectively get its offense moving after the Pirates and the Falcons went over three minutes without scoring a point to start the affair.
“Connor was very good,” Ater said. “Mack gave us really solid minutes and was all over the glass early on. He got a bunch of touches on both ends of the floor helping us out, and J.J. just made a lot of smart plays and reads. Shots just didn’t fall for us tonight. We had a bunch of good looks early on. The shots, for all of us, were just in and out. Defensively, we guard, and we always say, ‘On nights when shots don’t fall, you still have a shot to win (when guarding effectively).’”
However, despite facing a sizeable halftime deficit, Kelley and fellow backcourt running mate Nathan McCormick were both parts effective and gritty between Kelley’s ability to knock down deep jumpers and McCormick’s ability to hit tough, hard-fought runners in the lane.
Down 13 after a half-opening bucket by Holden, Minford used Kelley, who scored seven of his 12 points in the third quarter of action, and McCormick, who nailed three tough runners in the lane during the second half, to whittle the lead down to a two-possession margin at the end of the third quarter. McCormick’s third tough runner of the contest, along with a Cameron Dalton trey to open up the fourth period, allowed Josh Shoemaker’s club to fight the lead back down to a 37-33 margin with five minutes to go in the affair.
“It got really tight there,” Ater said. “Give credit to Minford for hanging in there, fighting back, and making some shots.”
But as Minford made its run, Wheelersburg bowed up defensively — and forced three consecutive turnovers as a result, leading to a Holden free throw, a three-point basket by Truitt, and a free throw from Lowery — the former pair of plays coming off of great passes from Mullins — to extend the lead to a 42-33 advantage. Minford never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.
“We were able to counteract their run with our pressure, which forced them into some turnovers, and then we did a nice job of executing against their zone and got the ball into the high post,” Ater said. “Connor made a couple of really nice reads, got it to Tanner on the block, who got fouled, then kicked it out and got a three for J.J. Guys just stepped up and made the right adjustments and plays when they needed to.”
With the victory, Wheelersburg improved its overall record to a solid 10-2 and 7-2 SOC II play ahead of a home bout against Northwest. Minford, who fell to 6-10 and 5-5 in the SOC II with the loss, will look to rebound on Friday evening when the Falcons host Oak Hill.
“We just have to continue to build on what we’re doing, and we’re going to continue to move upward,” Ater said of his club. “We don’t want to take steps back.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT