FRANKLIN FURNACE —Perhaps Jerome McKinley, by making the most of his five steals on Friday night, made one of his head coach’s decisions easier.
“I sometimes wonder who I should nominate for Defensive Player of the Year off our team. You can go with Jerome (McKinley) on the ball, or Chase (Clark) in the paint, or you can go with (Kyle) Sexton,” said New Boston coach Adam Cox. “A lot of teams don’t have that luxury of me putting in 6-foot-6 (Chase Clark), 6-foot-5 (Kyle Sexton), 6-1 (Jerome McKinley), 6-1 (Tanner Voiers) and some length and rebounding pressure and putting Jerome on the ball. It allows us to put a defensive lineup in the game. Every time we did, we got a stop.”
By getting defensive, especially late and spearheaded by the sophomore McKinley, the visiting Tigers took one of their biggest steps towards clinching their first Southern Ohio Conference Division I boys basketball championship in 22 years.
McKinley made five steals, turned four of them into subsequent points, and collected the most crucial takeaway with 20 seconds remaining — as visiting New Boston captured a critical 66-63 victory against the Green Bobcats in front of a full house at Green High School.
With the win, the Tigers — the second-ranked team in the third weekly Associated Press Ohio High School boys basketball Division IV poll — raised their stellar record to 15-1, and remained perfect atop the SOC I standings at 10-0.
Thanks to the hard-fought triumph over the game and determined Bobcats, the Tigers can clinch that coveted SOC I championship — a share on Tuesday night at East and the outright on Friday night at Ironton St. Joseph.
It will be the Tigers’ first SOC I title since the 1997-98 campaign, which —of course —is a long time coming to the basketball-crazy New Boston community.
As the Tigers celebrated with their fans following Friday night’s win, loud chants of “S-O-C” could be heard all over the Green gymnasium.
“You grow up living in New Boston and going to Glenwood and dreaming about going to the Convo (Ohio University Convocation Center for the district and regional boys basketball tournament), but you really, really dream about winning the SOC. That Gold Ball (trophy awarded the SOC I winner) is a really nice shiny trophy,” said Cox. “Our kids are really working hard towards accomplishing that goal. Hopefully, we can clinch on Tuesday.”
But first things first, the Tigers had to complete the season sweep of the Bobcats, which made New Boston work for its win in the foul-fest of a contest in the two teams’ initial meeting on Dec. 20.
There were 54 fouls and 48 foul shots combined in that matchup, as Friday featured fewer fouls —and only 22 total free throws.
Instead, it came down to New Boston making not one, not two, not three, not four, but count ‘em five massive defensive stops in the final two minutes and 47 seconds —as Green, despite trailing by three points at either 59-56 or 61-58 — had five opportunities to tie with a three-point goal.
The first three were missed shots, with McKinley actually grabbing two rebounds — before a traveling violation on Green’s Gage Sampson with 31-and-a-half seconds showing.
Finally, following a New Boston turnover and Green getting the basketball underneath its own basket, the Bobcats’ inbounds pass was intercepted by McKinley — and it set up Kyle Sexton sinking five clutch one-and-one free throws in the final 19 seconds.
The Bobcats’ buckets in the final 3:23 were three by Ethan Huffman, a Levi Sampson score with six seconds left to make it 64-60, and finally Levi Singleton sinking a three-pointer from the corner pocket for the 66-63 final.
Which, with that shot, makes McKinley’s major defensive plays —and the Bobcats’ 18 turnovers and missed opportunities at the end —loom even larger.
Green’s final turnover, trailing 63-58, was an over-and-back call with just 13 seconds remaining.
“We had five or six possessions there late we didn’t convert,” said Green coach Dirk Hollar. “(Ethan) Huffman had a runner that went in and out, then he shot a layup that I thought went in and looped back around and came out. So we got good looks on back-to-back layups. The out of bounds play we ran, we had backside wide open but we forced it (pass), so there was another turnover. The over-and-back, we weren’t thinking and lost track of what was going on. We beat ourselves, and that’s continued to happen all year. We continue to play hard and fight, but we have to finish those games. It was there, but we missed two layups in a row, and turned the ball over.”
McKinley’s awareness and interception of the inbounds pass was arguably the most important, because the Bobcats only trailed 61-58 — with only 20 seconds AND the ball underneath.
McKinley was fouled after making the steal, and despite missing a one-and-one free-throw attempt, the ball was in New Boston’s frontcourt —setting Sexton up to get fouled and mesh his five free throws.
But McKinley made four other steals which led directy to immense points as well.
In the first quarter, he had two thefts —the first of which he turned into a layup with the second resulting in a Tanner Voiers rebound putback which made it 13-8.
In the third frame, in the first 80 seconds no less, McKinley made back-to-back steals —and went in for layups to make it 37-30.
The Tigers’ largest lead was actually eight points twice (41-33 and 44-36), thanks to five points including a three-pointer from Voiers, but it was McKinley making those two early plays that allowed New Boston breathing room — as the second-half advantage ranged from two to eight points over the opening 12-and-a-half minutes.
Voiers poured in a game-high 24 points on 11 total field goals — and Sexton secured a triple-double with 16 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists — but McKinley’s 11 markers on five field goals and a first-quarter foul shot can’t be understated.
Cox said he called out McKinley, albeit privately, and was delighted to see him respond.
“I won’t say exactly what I told Jerome at halftime, but basically I told him he had shown up before the last three games not ready to go at the shoot-arounds or walk-thrus, and I was tired of watching it. He was a freshman on the Elite Eight (Division IV regional runner-up) team last year, and if he wasn’t going to wake up and play, then he needed to come off the bench and realize that there are other kids that want to. The third quarter, he stole the ball twice on the opening possessions,” said the coach.
There were actually eight lead changes in the first 15 minutes and 10 seconds, as New Boston built a 16-10 first-quarter bulge on Voiers’ first three-ball, but the Bobcats doubled up the Tigers 10-5 in the final three minutes of the first.
Green — which also held one-point leads of 4-3, 6-5 and 8-7 — gained its last lead at 22-21 on a Gage Sampson rebound stickback just 13 seconds into the second stanza.
The Tigers — taking the lead for good at the 6:50 mark of the period — led anywhere from one to five points throughout the second quarter, before Huffman drove and scored for the 33-30 halftime score.
McKinley made the two steals and layups, Voiers rained in a three at the 4:25 point to make it 44-36, and the lead ranged from four to eight points until the 5:41 mark of the final canto.
“It seemed like every time we missed a shot or did something goofy or turned it over, they went down and scored,” said Hollar. “That was a big difference in the game.”
The Bobcats’ fourth-quarter three-point deficits were 53-50, 55-52, 57-54, 59-56 and 61-58 —with Green getting the deficit down to one twice at 57-56 and 59-58.
Huffman hit a left-handed layup with a crossover move with 1:50 remaining, but back came Voiers only 22 seconds later for the final three-point advantage (61-58).
The score then remained 61-58 for the next minute and 11 seconds, as the Tigers turned back the Bobcats on five consecutive possessions.
Like the previous meeting, Green never got the lead back, but if it did…
“If we could get over that hump, we should be able to win. But it seemed like every time we made a play to get over that hump, we couldn’t finish,” said Hollar. “Those five possessions that we didn’t convert and we missed a box out on the other end, that was pretty much it. We stress taking care of the ball and boxing out, but we pick the worst times in the world to turn the ball over and that’s what happened.”
Lost in all of the anxious final three minutes was the scoring and statistics, as New Boston had 32 rebounds including 25 defensive — and the Tigers turned it over only eight times.
There were two 1,000-point scorers in the game —the junior Sexton and the senior Sampson, as Sexton scored five field goals —including his three-pointer just 40 seconds in to get New Boston on the board.
Sampson, even as the Tigers face-guarded him, scored 14 of his team-high 22 points on seven first-half deuces — as he hit Green’s other trifecta — outside of Singleton’s five.
Singleton splashed two treys in the opening quarter and two more in the third, as his final for his 15th point beat the game-ending buzzer.
Huffman had a dozen markers for the Bobcats on four field goals and 4-of-4 free throws, while Levi Sampson added eight on three baskets and 2-of-2 fourth-quarter freebies.
The Bobcats — which are off for a week before traveling to Western — fell to an even 9-9, and to 5-6 in the SOC I.
However, they battled the Tigers tooth-and-nail twice this season, especially on Friday night.
“Our kids always play hard, they’ve played hard since the first day of practice. That’s what they do and will continue to do because they are a great group of kids,” said Hollar. “We just have to take care of the ball better.”
Cox, quite frankly, was happy to leave foggy Franklin Furnace with a victory —which inched the Tigers to within the doorstep of winning the SOC I championship.
“Hats off to Green. They should be very proud. A three-point win on the road at Green, I will take it every year,” he said. “They were ready to play and this is a tough atmosphere, and (Gage) Sampson is an amazing senior, but we held on and that’s what matters.”
* * *
New Boston 21 12 20 13— 66
Green 20 10 17 16— 63
NEW BOSTON 66 (15-1, 10-0 SOC I)
Malachi Potts 0 0-0 0, Grady Jackson 1 0-0 2, Tanner Voiers 11 0-0 24, Kyle Sexton 4 1 5-8 16, Devon Jones 2 1-1 5, Kage Truitt 0 0-0 0, Marcus Saunders 1 2-2 4, Jerome McKinley 5 1-3 11, Chase Clark 2 0-0 4; TOTALS 27 9-14 66; Three-point goals: 3 (Tanner Voiers 2, Kyle Sexton 1)
GREEN 63 (9-9, 5-6 SOC I)
Trevor Darnell 1 0-0 2, Gage Sampson 10 1-2 22, Ethan Huffman 4 4-4 12, Alec Smith 2 0-0 4, Levi Singleton 5 0-0 15, Levi Sampson 3 2-2 8, Caden Brammer 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 25 7-8 63 ; Three-point goals: 6 (Levi Singleton 5, Gage Sampson 1)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved