FRANKLIN FURNACE — Well, it looks like you can add some Bobcats to this crazy Southern Ohio Conference Division I boys basketball horse race.
And, if 2022 is indeed a political year, then Tuesday night did not play out as expected —but only if you’re an incumbent.
That’s because the Green Bobcats, playing their first game in three full weeks, jumped right into the logjam that is the SOC I championship chase —by building a pair of 14-point second-half advantages, and then hanging on for dear life against defending division champion New Boston.
The visiting Tigers clawed their way back from at least a seven-point deficit not once but twice, but in the end the Bobcats ferociously fended them off, and prevailed 64-57 inside “The Furnace” — for likely the most important program victory in the one-and-a-half year tenure of second-season head coach Scott Blankenship.
To be equal, the Tigers were also playing their first affair in three full weeks — as both clubs couldn’t play because of their respective coronavirus situations.
At times, both squads shook off the downtime doldrums —as the Bobcats raced out to a 22-15 first-half advantage, only to see the Tigers charge back and get to within one (25-21).
In the second 16 minutes, Green doubled the lead to 38-24 and 41-27 in the latter stages of the third frame —but the Tigers seized upon another comeback bid, and three times stormed back to within a single point (51-50, 54-53 and 56-55).
However, the Bobcats — behind the play of the six-foot four-inch junior scoring machine and all-around standout Levi Sampson — finally held New Boston off, outscoring the Tigers 8-2 in the final minute and 50 seconds.
Also in that fourth canto, Bobcat brothers Gabe and Abe McBee joined Sampson in the scoring department —as Gabe McBee made 3-of-6 free throws and Abe McBee 2-of-4.
For Blankenship, his Bobcats knocking off the albeit new-look but two-time defending division champions —and leading for the final 20 minutes and 28 seconds while withstanding two Tiger rallies amid foul trouble and overcoming many turnovers and missed free throws— it’s an important building step.
The Bobcats, whose regular rotation consists of exclusively sophomores and juniors, are still relatively young —and still learning how to close out contests like Tuesday’s.
“We’re still going to have to minimize our turnovers, but beating New Boston is a really good win for us. Being a second-year coach, and playing New Boston in a home atmosphere like this, to knock off them off is huge,” said Blankenship. “And we haven’t done much over the last three weeks, including for five days we didn’t do anything at all because of COVID. We’ve had some good hard practices the last three days, but as a coach, you really don’t know what to expect. They’ve been the powerhouse the last two years in the SOC I, but we were successful tonight.”
The Bobcats boosted their record to 3-6, while the Tigers fell to 4-5, thus creating a free-for-all inside the SOC I — except for league leader Symmes Valley (5-1 SOC I).
With Western’s (5-2 SOC I) win at East, and given Ironton St. Joseph’s (3-2 SOC I) upset (51-49) of visiting Notre Dame (3-2 SOC I) on Tuesday night, that means five units all have two league losses.
Both the Bobcats and Tigers, along with St. Joseph and Notre Dame, are now 3-2 in the league.
New Boston fell behind by double digits with seven minutes remaining against Western in its most recent game before Tuesday —but mounted a 19-3 run to end, and win, that one.
The Tigers tried another massive comeback at Green, but could never gain the lead in the final five minutes.
Their last best chance came with less than two minutes left, when Brady Voiers drove the lane and scored to make it 56-55.
But Sampson, one of four Bobcats playing with foul fouls in the final 1:50, scored just 18 tics later — and Grady Jackson missed while Sampson rebounded on the other end.
Sampson then assisted on a Gabe McBee bucket with a minute remaining, before Voiers split a pair of free throws with 45 seconds showing.
However, 20 seconds later, Sampson scored one final time —as the Tigers tried to foul but totally lost Sampson, who was wide open underneath the basket.
That made it 62-57, as Abe McBee split his four charity tosses in the final 14 seconds.
For Sampson, the prolific scorer poured in a game-high 28 points —on a dozen total buckets and 4-of-7 foul shots.
He had half-a-dozen points in periods one, two and finally four —as the Bobcats bulged their advantage to 14 points twice, on the strength of his 10 third-period points.
“I can’t say enough about Levi Sampson tonight, especially in the second half. He puts the team on his shoulders and says ‘let’s go’. He is a really good athlete and competitor,” said Blankenship.
New Boston coach Adam Cox concurred.
“I actually thought we did a pretty good job on him (Sampson). He had 28, but they were spread out over every quarter, and we knew he was going to score about 25 or 30. We expected it,” he said. “He is a great player, and has one of the best work ethics in the area.”
And, Sampson had help this time, as Gabe McBee —besides his two fourth-quarter twos and 3-of-6 free throws —bagged a pair of second-stanza trifectas.
McBee also guarded the Tigers’ standout scorer Jackson, who dropped in 24 points including a pair of third-period comeback three-pointers —but only scored seven first-half points and took 23 total shots.
He tallied 10 total field goals, but was only 2-of-9 from three-point range.
“A shoutout to Gabe McBee on the defensive end tonight. When he was guarding Grady Jackson, he held to him one or two baskets,” said Blankenship. “He played his guts out.”
Levi Blevins bucketed four field goals and netted nine points, Logan Waddell scored three field goals for six, Abe McBee finished with five, and Nate Brannigan had three before fouling out.
For the Tigers, Myles Beasley banged home two first-half twos, two second-half threes, and swished 2-of-2 first-quarter freebies for 12 points —as Voiers added 11 on three other first-half field goals and three free throws.
Dalton Jackson scored seven points and grabbed a team-high dozen rebounds, as Devin Allard with a third-quarter basket and Luke Henson with a split of fourth-quarter charity tosses rounded out the Tigers’ scoring.
But despite making 11 steals, New Boston struggled shooting — all the way from inside the paint to outside the three-point arc and at the foul line.
The Tigers made just 4-of-15 from three-point territory, and meshed only 11 of their 23 total free throws.
They didn’t take advantage of all of Green’s turnovers and 11 missed foul shots on 22 attempts —forced instead to trying to keep pace, which morphed from a mudslinger to a track meet to a free-throw shooting contest.
Cox quickly dispelled any idle-time excuse.
“No excuse on that (not playing in three weeks). We had plenty of time to prepare and practice for this, and we knew exactly what we wanted to do. They hadn’t played in three weeks either,” he said. “So that’s out the door.”
Instead, the fifth-year Tiger mentor said his charges didn’t approach the first half like the second.
There were three lead changes in the opening 11 minutes and 32 seconds —along with ties of 8-8, 10-10 and 12-12.
New Boston’s biggest lead stood at 8-3 with three-and-a-half minutes left in the opening quarter.
From there, though, the Bobcats outscored them 22-13 for the reminder of half —before opening the first 4:13 of the third salvo with a 13-4 spree.
New Boston, over the final 11:47, outscored Green 33-26 —thus seven points was the margin of victory.
“It falls back on me not having the kids prepared to play the first half like they did the second. The intensity and urgency stepped up, but we played flat the first half and got ourselves in a 14-point hole. I told the kids that they showed a lot of heart and character in fighting back, and we had a chance to take the lead,” said Cox. “But if we stick to the system and did what we wanted to do in the first half, then I felt like this outcome would be different. Grady (Jackson) started slow, and we settled for a lot of shots that we weren’t making. Our gameplan was to attack, drive to the basket and get Green in foul trouble, but we didn’t do that first half. And Green did a great job of preparing and playing to what their strengths and abilities are, and we weren’t able to take much of those away. Just what happens in this league this year.”
And, the SOC I — this season anyways — is indeed a crazy horse race.
Both teams return to league action on Friday night on the road —with Green going to Western and New Boston at East.
Blankenship said his Bobcats can for sure be in the hunt, but have to better protect the basketball.
“It’s anybody’s race right now. But if we can eliminate the turnovers and start coming together, I think we can really do some damage. We have some talent here, but we HAVE to minimize turnovers,” he said. “Because we can’t get in a groove offensively by turning the ball over like that.”
* * *
New Boston 10 11 16 20 —57
Green 8 17 20 19 — 64
NEW BOSTON 57 (4-5, 3-2 SOC I)
Devin Allard 1 0-0 2, Grady Jackson 10 2-5 24, Luke Henson 0 1-2 1, Myles Beasley 4 2-2 12, Mark Rivers 0 0-0 0, Dalton Jackson 2 3-6 7, Brady Voiers 2 3-8 11; TOTALS 21 11-23 57; Three-point field goals: 4 (Grady Jackson and Myles Beasley 2 apiece)
GREEN 64 (3-6, 3-2 SOC I)
Levi Blevins 4 0-0 9, Abe McBee 1 3-6 5, Levi Sampson 12 4-7 28, Gabe McBee 4 3-6 13, Nate Brannigan 1 1-3 3, Logan Waddell 3 0-0 6; TOTALS 25 11-22 64; Three-point field goals: 3 (Gabe McBee 2, Levi Blevins 1)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved