PORTSMOUTH — When Wheelersburg’s Connor Mullins is feeling himself from beyond the 3-point arc, the Pirates’ game plan becomes ever so simple: give Connor Mullins the basketball.
Saturday night, Connor Mullins was feeling himself from beyond the 3-point arc … and he took advantage of his opportunities when he received the basketball.
Mullins scored the Pirates’ first eight points before ending with a total of 20, alongside six treys, in a 70-57 win over county rival Portsmouth on the road.
“Coming off a game where I had double-digits, I came in shooting 3-for-4 in the first quarter from 3,” Mullins said. “So I was feeling it from deep but I give all the credit to my teammates for finding me.”
Mullins is just humble. But no worries, he got the credit he deserved from Wheelersburg coach Steven Ater.
“I don’t think it’s his mentality coming in, to look for his offense. But he’s going to take it when it’s there,” Ater said. “He’s a senior, he’s a two-year starter, he’s captain for us. We see him everyday in practice and we notice the work he’s put in during the offseason. He’s earned the ability to shoot those shots for us. We have the utmost confidence in him.”
While Mullins continued to stroke from 3-point land, Wheelersburg’s Tanner Holden was his usual self. The future Wright State Raider was a force on the offensive glass and habitually answered any burst of momentum the Trojans could muster up with a bucket of his own.
“Great atmosphere tonight. Probably the best we’ve played in,” Holden said. “I think it was a great game for us against a really tough team. We got tested, so it was a great matchup for us.”
Tale of the tape
Portsmouth’s Miles Shipp started the night’s scoring before Mullins scored eight straight, giving Wheelersburg (9-0) an 8-2 lead. Later, Fraulini hit his first 3 of the night, out of five, cutting the lead to 12-7. After a fast-paced, entertaining first quarter, Wheelersburg held a 19-15 lead.
In the second, Holden made sure his presence was known. The 6-foot-6 senior scored 10 points in the eight-minute period alone, pacing the Pirates to a 33-25 lead at the break.
But in the third, Fraulini and Danny Lattimore led Portsmouth (5-4) down the comeback trail.
Myquel McKinley was fouled on a bucket that counted, making it 33-28, Fraulini drove to the bucket to make it 33-30 and then hit a 3 with 5:47 left, tying the game 35-35. The Trojans actually took a 40-39 lead with 3:43 left before the fourth.
“I thought defensively, we started controlling a few things,” Ater said. “Give [Portsmouth] a lot of credit. They scratched, they clawed, they gave us their best shot. I thought Trent [Salyers] had a great second half for us. He didn’t have the first half we would’ve like him to have. He goes into the locker room, you coach him up a little bit and he comes in the second half, guards [Portsmouth’s Matthew] Fraulini and steps in and hits some big shots for us.”
But Wheelersburg absorbed the Trojans’ best punch and delivered a blow of their own.
Behind Salyers, who had a quiet night before the third, the Pirates ended the third on a 11-2 run, taking a 50-42 edge into the fourth quarter.
“Give the guys credit. A lot of people say Tanner does this and Tanner does that. But tonight, with Tanner on the bench in foul trouble, the guys made a run without him,” Ater said. “That helped us push away at the end of the third.”
That run extended to an 18-2 margin, extending the lead to 57-42 with 5:22 left in regulation. From there, the Pirates coasted to their ninth win in ninth tries this season.
Holden led all scorers with 26 points alongside a game-high 10 rebounds while Mullins ended the night with 20 points, including six 3-point field goals. Salyers finished the night with 10 points while J.J. Truitt chipped in with nine points, four rebounds and three assists.
For Portsmouth, Fraulini ended the night with 23 points while Lattimore followed with 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Shipp had a good evening as well, posting 10 points, eight boards and three assists.
What’s on tap
The Pirates get back into Southern Ohio Conference action Tuesday, traveling to South Webster. Portsmouth attempts to bounce back from back-to-back losses, making a trip to Fairland the same evening.
“We just have to go in everyday like we’re 0-0, not really thinking about being undefeated,” Holden said. “We don’t need to add any pressure that doesn’t need to be added.”
With South Webster’s Shiloah Blevins back from injury, the Jeeps are a real threat to win any game on any given night. Ater knows that better than anyone and, even though his Pirates are still undefeated, there’s many things to work on.
“We have got to get better defensively,” Ater said. “There’s still little weak spots right now … a late rotation, a missed box out, some things that I know I’m going to continue to harp on. We can put up points, no doubt about it, but at some points we have to have other things going for us. We have to continue to work and not feel like we’re good where we are.”
Wheelersburg: 19-14-17-20 — 70
Portsmouth: 15-10-17-15 — 57
Wheelersburg: 26-54 FG, 9-11 FT, 9-19 3pt. (Mullins 6), 26 rebounds (Holden 10), 7 turnovers, 12 assists (Truitt 3, Holden 3). Scoring: Holden 26, Mullins 20, T. Salyers 10, Truitt 9, Miller 5.
Portsmouth: 23-49 FG, 6-10 FT, 5-12 3pt. (Fraulini 5), 29 rebounds (Shipp 8), 14 turnovers, 9 assists (Lattimore 4). Scoring: Fraulini 23, Lattimore 14, Shipp 10, McKinley 5, Johnson 4, Roe 1.
Reach Derrick Webb at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @dw1509.