PORTSMOUTH — New Boston entered Thursday’s battle atop the Southern Ohio Conference Division I standings with reigning conference champion Notre Dame hoping to play the role of Buster Douglas, the scrappy underdog, while the Titans played the role of Mike Tyson, the champion lying with his back on the canvas for the first time in his career after Douglas’ 10th-round knockout in their famous 1990 heavyweight championship fight.
By game’s end, it was the Titans who resembled Douglas with the Tigers attempting to put their proverbial mouth-piece back in after Notre Dame’s fatal fourth-quarter blow.
Before then, however, it was a game in which New Boston tested Notre Dame at every point.
It was how the Titans (8-0, 6-0 SOC I) performed in the late stages of Thursday’s 66-52 win over the Tigers (7-3, 5-1 SOC I) that ultimately decided the outcome, but how both teams performed over the course of the game was the real story in Thursday’s SOC I heavyweight bout.
“We knew coming into halftime that we hadn’t played our best and we still led by one,” Notre Dame coach J.D. McKenzie said following the win. “And really, we didn’t play terrible, but we shot terrible (in the first half). It felt like the rim had a lid on it. Late in the game, we made more shots, we were able to get our defense set up. The poor shooting start had an effect on us, and I thought New Boston played harder than us in the first half and that was a big reason it was such a tight game.”
“Our message tonight was that it’s not just Notre Dame at the top, we want to compete with them and try to knock them off,” New Boston coach Kayla Wiley said. “I thought our girls did good for three-and-a-half quarters, fourth quarter we turned the ball over more than we did before. We’ve just got to do a better job of keeping our composure during those situations, but Notre Dame’s a really good, high-energy defensive team, and for three-and-a-half quarters I thought we did a good job of competing with them.”
The Titans may have led at every stop, but it was by the narrowest of margins each time.
One-point leads for Notre Dame after the first quarter (8-7), at halftime (25-24), and after three quarters (45-44) had the game in question entering the deciding eight minutes.
Notre Dame outscored New Boston 21-8 over the final eight minutes of play, with six different Titans contributing to their highest-scoring quarter in Thursday’s win.
Titans’ guard Ava Hassel scored five of her season-high 25 points (five-made threes) in the final frame, including her team’s 65th and 66th points to put a seal on yet another SOC I win for Notre Dame.
Hassel managed just one-made three pointer in the first quarter after picking up two quick fouls, but the junior play-maker made the Tigers pay in quarters two and three when New Boston themselves were attempting to gain ground. When it looked like New Boston could take a lead, or even extend their lead when the Tigers did go ahead, Hassel made a play or a shot to help fend off their scrappy opponent.
After a Tigers’ 9-0 run gave them a 42-41 lead late in the third quarter, Hassel calmly sunk two free throws to give her team a 43-42 lead, one in which they wouldn’t look back from.
“When you take someone like Ava (Hassel) that is your point guard and someone who picks up full-court defensively, that’s kind of like losing your quarterback,” McKenzie said. “At at times when she wasn’t out there, we looked lost offensively. I thought she came out after that and did a lot, and really showed how great of a player she is by taking control — pushing the issue offensively, stepping up defensively. She did all the things you want to see from a great player.”
While the Titans’ fast-paced playing style normally makes it hard for other teams to keep up with their speed, New Boston was more than capable of keeping up with Notre Dame in transition and in the open court. Rather than play a slowed-down version of basketball which may resemble Dean Smith’s infamous four corner offense, New Boston matched Notre Dame’s intensity and attempted to keep up with the Titans’ scoring pace for all four quarters.
“I thought we did a pretty good job of being able to run the floor with them,” Wiley said. “We had some silly turnovers at the end, and those are things we have to keep working on. We’re going to keep conditioning and I thought we did really good in our transition game. They’re not an easy team to keep pace with, so I thought we did a good job of that in the first part of the game.”
After Hassel’s game-high 25, Notre Dame was led in scoring by Taylor Schmidt’s 11 points, Isabel Cassidy’s nine, Claire Dettwiller’s eight, Olivia Smith’s seven, Lauren Campbell’s four and Cassie Schaefer’s two.
For New Boston, Lexus Oiler finished with a team-high 18 points, Sammy Oiler scored 13, Kenzie Whitley scored eight, Shelby Easter scored seven and Taylen Hickman scored six.
Moving forward, both teams are back in action this Saturday at the Woods Lumber Classic hosted by the University of Rio Grande. New Boston will take on Greenup County (Ky.) beginning at 12:45 p.m. while Notre Dame faces fellow perennial Division IV power Waterford at 5:15 p.m. Notre Dame is also back in action on Monday at Green in a pivotal road game if the Titans hope to solidify their standing in the race for another SOC I title.
“We definitely want better energy to start the game, and a lot of times that’s fueled by if you’re making shots,” McKenzie said looking ahead to his group’s upcoming four days. “If we can make some shots to start the game, get set into our press and feed off those turnovers. We just didn’t have enough of that in this game until late, if we can do that early in those two games, that would do a lot for us going forward.”
“I learned that we’re better defensively than we play sometimes,” Wiley said of her takeaway’s from Thursday’s loss. “Tonight also tells me these girls are in it for the long haul. Sometimes it’s easy to question if basketball is their favorite sport or what they’re here for, but tonight tells me they’re here for their teammates and each other. They’ve always been team players, but I could see tonight on their faces how bad they wanted the win. We’re going to continue to get better and hopefully keep up this energy when we see them at home.”
New Boston 7 17 20 8 — 52
Notre Dame 8 17 20 21 — 66
NEW BOSTON 52 (7-3, 5-1 SOC I)
Lexus Oiler 8 2-2 18, Cadence Williams 0 0-0 0, Shelby Easter 3 1-1 7, Kenzie Whitley 3 0-0 8, Taylen Hickman 2 2-6 6, Sammy Oiler 4 3-4 13, Dylan O’Rourke 0 0-0 0; TOTALS: 20 8-13 52; Three-point field goals: 4 (Sammy Oiler and Kenzie Whitley 2 apiece)
NOTRE DAME 66 (8-0, 6-0 SOC I)
Taylor Schmidt 5 0-2 11, Ava Hassel 8 4-5 25, Cassie Schaefer 1 0-1 2, Olivia Smith 3 0-0 7, Claire Dettwiller 3 2-4 8, Isabel Cassidy 3 2-3 9, Lauren Campbell 2 0-0 4; TOTALS: 25 8-15 66; Three-point field goals: 8 (Ava Hassel 5, Taylor Schmidt, Isabel Cassidy and Olivia Smith 1 apiece)
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved