ATHENS — It was Valley’s first postseason back inside Ohio University’s Convocation Center in three years, and it was Wheelersburg’s first trip back in two.
Perhaps best, though, it was boys basketball fans from all over Southeast, East and even Central Ohio’s first following the height of the coronavirus threat.
But, one thing hasn’t changed at all in playing in The Convo —come hell or high water, or even COVID-19 in between.
In order to win in that Mecca of an arena, dubbed the “The Roundhouse on Richland” on the Ohio University campus, individual players — and collective teams — HAVE to make shots.
And, of course, it’s not your ordinary run-of-the-mill high school gymnasium — given the shooting backgrounds and deceptive depth perceptions, the spacial and wider floor for primarily college basketball games, and not one but two three-point arcs (one for high school and one for college).
However, poor long-range shooting bugaboo-ed the Valley Indians on Tuesday night in a Division IV Region 15 semifinal —as Valley lost to the Western Indians 63-55.
Then, the next night on Wednesday night in a Division III Region 11 semi, the Wheelersburg Pirates simply struggled to buy a first-half basket —and fell behind by multiple 10-point deficits, eventually falling to the Garaway Pirates 64-45.
Against Western, Valley scored the opening seven points —including its only three-point goal by George Arnett, which made it 7-0 only two minutes in.
Notice that read ONLY three-point goal.
Unfortunately for the Purple and Gold, that was correct —as these Indians took 19 trey tries Tuesday night, and only Arnett’s hit went in.
Both Indians made 22 total field goals, while Western took 53 shots and Valley 61.
Rebounds balanced out at 37-36, but Valley’s 1-of-19 three-point performance can’t be overlooked —or even overstated.
Arnett attempted four along with Colt Buckle, while Carter Nickel and seniors Tucker Merritt and Bryce Stuart shot three apiece —and Jace Copley tried twice before fouling out midway through the fourth.
Stuart scored 17 points in his final game on eight field goals and a split of free throws, before he too fouled out with two minutes and 13 seconds to go.
Stuart shot 15 times while Buckle was 4-of-14, Arnett 6-of-12, and Copley —plagued by foul trouble all night —was 0-of-7.
“We just didn’t hit shots. We were off tonight. We never could get in a rhythm or ever get going. I thought when we got to the rim, we made a lot of things happen. But the atmosphere, and everybody talks about the shooting background here, that was very evident,” said Valley coach Craig Tackett. “One three-pointer is so uncharacteristic for us. They (Western) did a good job of staying in front of us and it made us shoot some outside shots, but we just couldn’t get those to fall. They hit more shots and we ran out of gas.”
Western, which got a game-high 21 points from Eastern transfer Chase Carter and attacked the Valley defense at all angles, went 4-of-14 from deep —and that was indeed good enough for an eight-point difference.
Carter was 2-of-3 from three, while Noah Whitt — with 15 points to follow Carter — was 2-of-2.
For Wheelersburg, which never led against Garaway with Wednesday night’s contest, although it shot 41-percent for the game —it shot 7-of-23 for a mere 30-percent in the opening half.
While Wheelersburg was 1-of-6 from three-point territory, it wasn’t until a minute and 20 seconds remained that senior Braxton Rase registered that only triple.
By then, the Orange and Black Pirates trailed 60-40, as Garaway’s largest lead was with 53 seconds showing —at 64-43.
Wheelersburg was 19-of-46 overall, but in trying to slice its first-half deficit which was actually by 10 points at each stop (18-8 after first quarter, 25-15 after second quarter and 43-33 after third quarter), it either missed in the lane or around the rim —and had five of its attempts be blocked.
Josh Clark paced the Pirates with 14 points on seven field goals, but shot 17 times — per the on-site stat sheet provided by Ohio University Athletics.
Eli Swords, who scorched the nets and torched the Chesapeake Panthers for a carer-high 34 points in Wheelersburg’s win for the district championship, sank just 2-of-9 against Garaway for four points.
Swords and Cooper McKenzie took two threes, while Rase and Connor Estep each added one.
Wheelersburg was guarded closely by at least four six-foot and two-inch tall juniors —including twin brothers Alexander Roden and Brady Roden.
“Their length certainly bothered us around the rim. We had some looks, but then they jump up over the top of us with that length behind us and we didn’t finish the play,” said Wheelersburg coach Steven Ater. “Our effort and will was certainly there, but we came up short in the execution department.”
While Wheelersburg came up short, Garaway went long —as in long distance.
In a three-point barrage, Garaway started a perfect 6-of-6 in the opening eight-and-a-half minutes — with Alexander Roden and Drew Mullett making 3-of-3 apiece, and Logan Yoder with the only first-half misfire.
In the second 16 minutes, it was all Mullett making trifectas —from the corner, to the wing, and to “the third ring” of the planet Saturn.
Mullett made 3-of-6 in the third, and 3-of-3 more in the fourth —accounting for all nine of Garaway’s second-half three-point shots.
That meant Mullett netted nine of his dozen attempts, as he did not take a two-point try.
He poured in 27 and Alexander Roden another 24, as Mullett’s mastery of the three-point arc set a new Garaway school record for made threes in a single game.
Wheelersburg was in a defensive zone set, while Mullett was in a completely different zone of his own.
“We couldn’t let them comfortable, but they certainly got comfortable and settled in and stayed that way. They did a really good job of finding seams, which moved us around and they found the open spots behind them,” admitted Ater. “Gotta give them credit, man. They couldn’t miss, especially Mullett, and it felt like even with everything we tried to do, they just made shots, and nothing we threw at them defensively seemed to slow them down or phase them. You tip your cap to them. They got hot and stayed hot.”
And, it certainly wasn’t a good time —or especially the place —for both Valley and/or Wheelersburg to go cold.
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