SOUTH WEBSTER — In a matter of four-and-a-half game minutes, South Webster’s Trae Zimmerman got in a smile, a friendly wave, and a Michael Jordan-esque shoulder shrug at the Wheelersburg Pirates’ student cheer block.
That last gesture, you youngsters might need to research.
But, indeed, Zimmerman went from first-half foul trouble to plenty of second-half fun at the Pirates’ expense.
And, Zimmerman was a microcosm of Tuesday night’s true tale of two quarters — in which South Webster went from allowing 28 second-period points, to absolutely none in the third frame.
That second-half turnaround spearheaded the host Jeeps, which stymied the Pirates to a mere dozen second-half points —as undefeated South Webster reversed a 44-31 halftime deficit into a 66-56 victory in a key early-season Southern Ohio Conference Division II tilt.
You read correct, Wheelersburg — the three-time defending division champion but impacted heavily by graduation and making its season debut — went from scoring half of its total in the second stanza to zero counters in the third.
With the victory, the Jeeps —whose much-anticipated SOC II bout at West was canceled from Friday night and reset for Jan. 8 along with Waverly at Wheelersburg —jumped to 3-0, as Tuesday’s fray ended up as the SOC II opener for both.
It also marked South Webster’s first win in boys basketball over Wheelersburg since the 2016-17 campaign —in which standout and scoring machine Shiloah Blevins was dominating in Jeep Country.
Now, that mantle is carried on by the senior Zimmerman, who zapped the Pirates for 21 second-half points — including two deuces, two treys, and 5-of-6 of his 6-of-8 free throws in the fourth quarter.
Zimmerman, who hit a three for the game’s opening basket just 35 seconds in, didn’t score again until only a minute and 22 tics remained in the second quarter —as he had two personal fouls.
But, with the Jeeps shooting at the shooter-friendly stage end of the SWHS gymnasium in the second half —Zimmerman got it started with another basket just 28 seconds in.
That made it 44-33, as he then split a pair of foul shots with 2:07 left in the canto —to make it 44-40.
However, he saved by far his best shot of the period — and even the game — to beat the third-quarter buzzer.
Loading up and firing away at the “EE” on the “JEEPS” logo, Zimmerman swished a downtown South Webster three-ball — executed almost to near-perfection off an inbounds play.
The splashdown gave the Jeeps a 45-44 advantage —as they had trailed 44-30 at the 1:17 mark of the second salvo.
Zimmerman simply looked the Pirates’ cheer block way, and smiled and kindly waved —stunning the Pirates, their boisterous student section, and their strong following of fans.
With four deuces, four treys, and 6-of-8 free throws —the six-foot Zimmerman enjoyed a season-high 26, and played with tremendous confidence after enduring first-half foul problems.
“I told Trae that shots would start to fall. I am a firm believer to keep shooting if you are a shooter,” said SWHS coach Brenton Cole. “I think the foul trouble messed with him a little bit. He was missing shots a little bit short. But he got rolling, he is a senior leader, and he exerted himself the way he needed to in that second half. He saw when the lane was open to take it, he got rebounds, and he is also the guy we’re looking to bring the ball up quick and find the open guys running. He got everybody rolling.”
Got the Jeeps rolling on both ends of the floor, as his third three —once again from the “JEEPS” logo —tied their largest lead at that point at 57-51 and with 5:18 to play.
Finally, from the corner pocket with two-and-a-half-minutes left —Zimmerman made it 65-51, which was South Webster’s biggest margin of the entire night.
After that dagger, Zimmerman shrugged his shoulders — racing right past the Pirates’ cheer block.
There was little that it, or anybody else, could do except watch — and marvel.
Fellow SWHS senior Cam Carpenter followed Zimmerman with 19 points —with four first-half twos, two second-half threes, and 5-of-6 charity tosses including 3-of-4 in the fourth.
Eli Roberts roared out to 10 first-period points on two twos and two threes as part of his 12, while Will Collins chipped in eight on three field goals and 2-of-4 free throws.
Connor Bender, by splitting two second-quarter freebies, gave the Jeeps a 24-23 edge —which was South Webster’s final lead until Zimmerman beat the third-quarter buzzer.
With that shot, the Jeeps’ comeback bid was officially completed —with Wheelersburg’s 44-30 advantage all officially wiped out.
The Jeeps turned the Pirates over 17 times, as Wheelersburg scored just two transition points — and none off the offensive boards.
That meant South Webster was winning the rebounding battle, as it also doubled (28-14) up the Pirates in points in the paint.
While Wheelersburg was on first-half fire, and shot over 70-percent from the field, South Webster was the second-half extinguisher.
Cole commented on the secret to South Webster’s defensive success.
“We tried to take away middle drives. They were getting in the spots they wanted to be, to where they could penetrate or look for the kick for a three. Their offense gets you moving away from where you want to be going. But the boys listened, we started jumping to the ball, and got over and took away that drive to the middle,” said the coach. “Just to take away that quick drive and kick. Then in the fourth quarter, we went to that full-court zone. They had trouble getting the ball up the floor, we got one 10-second call and a couple more turnovers out of it. That really helped us there. They shot well the first half, and our defense was letting them get the middle too much. But we made some adjustments, and our guys coming into the fourth quarter fed off that momentum and energy.”
There were eight lead changes, with four in the opening quarter, and five ties —the penultimate of which was a 28-28 deadlock with 4:52 to play in the second period.
But the most experienced Pirate player and only returning starter — senior Eli Swords — started connecting from long range, landing three of his five threes in the quarter, as the Pirates posted 14 unanswered points for a 42-28 advantage.
Swords first tied it at 21-21, gave the Pirates a 26-24 lead, and finally made it 35-28 with 3:50 left on his third and final first-half trifecta.
In addition, Cooper McKenzie scored five second-period points and Josh Clark six —as 10 of McKenzie’s dozen points (three twos and two threes) came in the first 16 minutes, and all 10 (three field goals and 4-of-6 free throws) of Clark’s.
Nick Wright made a first-quarter three, and both Jackson Schwamburger and Tyler Sommer made second-quarter free throws.
However, Wheelersburg would experience two epic scoring droughts —following Sommer’s foul shots with 1:17 before halftime.
The Jeeps pitched a third-quarter shutout, as Swords converted two free throws only 32 seconds into the final frame to finally stop the Wheelersburg bleeding — as his fourth triple 55 seconds into that quarter gave the Pirates their final lead at 49-47.
But, that last lead turned out to be short-lived.
Zimmerman made two free throws for the fifth and final tie, and Carpenter connected from distance to make it 52-49 with 6:25 remaining.
McKenzie then scored 18 tics later to get the Pirates to within one (52-51), but the Orange and Black didn’t score again until 1:21 was left —and after the Jeeps tallied another 13 unanswered.
“We’re not making excuses, give South Webster a lot of credit for their win and the job they did defensively, but we just didn’t finish in the second half when we had the opportunities to. We scored 44 points in the first half, shot the ball and executed well, could’ve really ran away with this thing. Second half, we turned the ball over, missed shots, and for a lot of these guys, this was their first varsity game,” said Wheelersburg coach Steven Ater. “Some of that was still getting our basketball legs, which is nothing new to us about every year at this time. Bottom line is we didn’t execute and finish in the second half and they did.”
Swords scored the final five Pirate points, including his fifth three-pointer with 13 seconds to go.
That gave the sharp-shooter a game-high 27, and 10 of Wheelersburg’s total dozen in the second half.
Cole expects to face a different Pirate club when the two play their return match in January.
“This was the first game of the year for them, so Coach (Steven) Ater will have a different team when we see them the second time. I’m 100-percent positive of that,” he said. “That’s a good team we played tonight. They scored 28 points in a quarter, and they are capable of that in any quarter on any night.”
For Tuesday night, though, the Jeeps staged a colossal comeback — and a quarter shutout — as Zimmerman got in a grin, a wave, and a shoulder shrug in one fell swoop.
“We’ll take this win tonight. Big win for us,” said Cole. “It’s a tough group, a smart group, a scrappy group and a great group of guys we have this year.”
The Jeeps return home, and return to SOC II action, against fellow undefeated Valley on Friday night.
* * *
Wheelersburg 16 28 0 12— 56
South Webster 21 10 14 21 — 66
WHEELERSBURG 56 (0-1, 0-1 SOC II)
Braxton Rase 0 0-0 0, Connor Estep 0 o-0 0, Josh Clark 3 4-6 10, Nolan Wright 1 0-0 3, Eli Swords 8 6-6 27, Jackson Schwamburger 0 2-2 2, Tyler Sommer 0 2-2 2, Cooper McKenzie 5 0-0 12, Zavier Staley 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 17 14-16 56; Three-point field goals: 8 (Eli Swords 5, Cooper McKenzie 2, Nolan Wright 1)
SOUTH WEBSTER 55 (3-0, 1-0 SOC II)
Connor Bender 0 1-2 1, Trae Zimmerman 8 6-8 26, Cam Carpenter 6 5-6 19, Brady Blizzard 0 0-3 0, Eli Roberts 5 0-2 12, Will Collins 3 2-4 8; TOTALS 22 14-25 66; Three-point field goals: 8 (Trae Zimmerman 4, Cam Carpenter and Eli Roberts 2 apiece)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved