OAK HILL — For the Wheelersburg Pirates, Tuesday night’s tale of two halves was actually —and simply —all about energy.
And, intensity is often —as was the case in the Pirates’ point production at Oak Hill — a catch “22”.
That’s because the visiting Pirates, after tallying 22 first-half points, erupted for 22 in the third quarter alone —as Wheelersburg reversed course, and captured a 58-49 come-from-behind Southern Ohio Conference Division II tilt inside Oak Hill’s “Nuthouse”.
That’s correct, as the Oaks opened up a second-stanza lead as large as nine points twice —at 21-12 and 27-18, on the strength of five first-half three-pointers.
The Pirates trailed 28-22 at halftime, and young yet improved Oak Hill had pretty much everything going its way.
But behind Cooper McKenzie’s 14 third-quarter points —which featured five field goals including a pair of three-pointers plus two old-fashioned three-point plays —Wheelersburg blitzkrieged the Oaks for 22 canto markers, as Eli Swords sank a buzzer-beating jumper just inside the free-throw line for a 44-40 edge entering the fourth.
Finally, in the final four minutes and 22 seconds —the Pirates led by at least seven points from there, eventually upping the margin to 57-45 with 51 seconds remaining, as Swords swished 3-of-4 early free throws and Jackson Schwamburger another 4-of-5 very late.
With the win, the Pirates climbed over the .500 mark to 10-9 —and moved within a game of .500 in the SOC II to 6-7.
According to Wheelersburg head coach Steven Ater, the difference from first half to the second —especially the third frame —was merely the Pirates’ energy levels.
In all, Wheelersburg won the second 16 minutes by 15 points (36-21) —like it was night and day.
“We came out in the second half with some intensity, which in the first half was lacking. Give Oak Hill credit for playing really well and making shots, but it was simple things for us that we were making it easy for them. We weren’t closing out or boxing out and we gave them long possessions. Our offensive result was our tempo was low. We weren’t guarding and they were getting easy shots. The second half, we were upset about that,” Ater admitted. “We had to light a fire into them a little bit, but give our kids credit for coming out and responding. The group that started the third quarter for us was fantastic. We scored 16 points in a three-and-a-half minute stretch. The guys just seemed much more relaxed at that point. We played with intensity in the second half and flipped the script.”
That they did, starting on the defensive end.
Ater agreed the “want to” was Wheelersburg’s second-half trump card.
“For some reason, that wasn’t there in the first half. We mixed up some man and zone (defense), but basketball is still very simple on at least one end of the floor,” said the coach. “You have to play really hard, you have to close out (on shooters) and you have to rebound. If you do those three things pretty well, it doesn’t matter what you are doing. You’re going to at least be successful defensively.”
As the Oaks amounted 14 points in each of the opening two salvos, the Pirates’ only second-half three allowed was with a minute left in the third —by Braylon Howell and which followed Kade Kinzell’s old-fashioned three-point play.
That six-point Oaks’ surge closed the gap to 42-40, but Swords stopped that mini-run with his buzzer-beater —and Oak Hill never got closer than 44-42, with only 52 seconds elapsed in the final quarter.
Swords scored 20, but his eight field goals —including his three-pointer which made it 49-42 with only 4:55 to play —were spread out over the game’s lifespan.
The six-foot four-inch senior McKenzie made much more of an immediate impact, scoring all 14 of his third-period points in the opening four minutes and dozen seconds — for a 40-34 Pirate advantage.
He too totaled eight buckets and tied Swords with a team-high 20 —as his third-quarter trifectas accounted for Wheelersburg’s first made triples.
“Huge stretch for Cooper there, where he put us on his back. He’s a really good shooter who’s worked really hard, and the guys are comfortable and confident in his ability to shoot the ball. They look to him, and we needed that lift,” said Ater, of McKenzie. “And I thought he did a really good job defensively and rebounding in the second half too. I thought that gave him a shot in the arm offensively. He just did tonight what we know he can do on both ends. It was great to see him get going like that.”
The prime scorer Swords and fellow senior Josh Clark each chipped in two third-quarter baskets, including Clark’s rebound putback at the 4:48 mark — which gave the Pirates the lead for good.
Clark, coming back from his mid-season injury and playing more minutes, added eight points on four buckets— while Noah Wright (first quarter), Tyler Sommer (second) and Kaden Johnson (second) joined in by making single field goals.
Clark’s presence has been pivotal, as his absence coincided with Wheelersburg’s five-game losing skid.
“His athleticism is fantastic for us,” said Ater, of Clark. “He can get up above the rim, he can finish around the basket, and rebounding-wise he has been a big asset. He’s a playmaker for us, and defensively he uses his athleticism to work the ball and get deflections and steals.”
Indeed, for the now 7-12 and 3-10 Oaks, turnovers turned into an issue in the third — as well as intensity on their end.
“We just didn’t have the same energy defensively for the first four or five minutes of that quarter. They picked up the pressure on us, we turned it over, we started taking quick shots, and the game got too fast for us. They took advantage of that,” said OHHS second-year coach Heath McKinniss. “We have to pick our spots, but we can’t play fast like that. We gave up 22 points the whole first half, then gave up 22 points in the third quarter. We can’t play the game like that and we know that.”
Kinzell tied McKenzie and Swords in scoring 20 points, pouring in seven total field goals and 4-of-5 second-half foul shots.
Aidan Hall hit for 13 points on five field goals and 3-of-7 free throws —but only scored three second-half counters.
McKinniss commented on the six-foot three-inch Hall’s lack of late-game touches.
“We didn’t play inside-out either in the second half, which is something we do well. Didn’t have Aidan Hall touch the basketball near enough,” he said.
Kinzell with two in the first quarter, and Braylon Howell with two and Nathan Hall with one in the second, made up for Oak Hill’s five first-half threes.
The Oaks broke away from six first-quarter lead changes, and two ties at 2-2 and 12-12 — and did lead for 11 minutes and 15 seconds of the middle two periods.
However, Wheelersburg was energized for the entire second half —and that’s what it took to escape Oak Hill’s “Nuthouse” with the win.
“We needed them all tonight,” said Ater. “We’re showing a lot of progress and we keep telling our guys to bring competitive spirit. We’re still seeing a lot of that, and we’re seeing the growth because of it.”
* * *
Wheelersburg 12 10 22 14 —58
Oak Hill 14 14 12 9 — 49
WHEELERSBURG 58 (10-9, 6-7 SOC II)
Braxton Rase 0 0-0 0, Connor Estep 0 0-0 0, Josh Clark 4 0-0 8, Noah Wright 1 0-0 2, Jackson Schwamburger 0 4-5 4, Tyler Sommer 1 0-2 2, Eli Swords 8 3-4 20, Kaden Johnson 1 0-0 2, Cooper McKenzie 8 2-2 20, Zavier Stanley 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 23 9-13 58; Three-point field goals: 3 (Cooper McKenzie 2, Eli Swords 1)
OAK HILL 49 (7-12, 3-10 SOC II)
Connor Clark 1 0-0 2, Braylon Howell 3 0-0 9, Kade Kinzell 7 4-5 20, Nathan Hall 2 0-0 5, Aidan Hall 5 3-7 13, Gavin Howell 0 0-0 0, Reagan Michael 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 18 7-12 49; Three-point field goals: 6 (Braylon Howell 3, Kade Kinzell 2, Nathan Hall 1)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved