West Union gets big SHAC road win 38-36 –
By Mark Carpenter –
Sometimes what looks very improbable suddenly becomes very possible. That had to be the mindset of the West Union basketball fans who made the trek on Tuesday night to Eastern Brown High School as the Dragons put their four-game winning streak on the line in a very important Southern Hills Athletic Conference contest for both teams.
Shock may have been the correct word for the West Union faithful as they watched their boys struggle through a miserable first half, where their high-flying offense was held to just eight points in 16 minutes. Luckily, the Warriors didn’t fare a whole lot better and only managed 18 in the first half. After the intermission though, it was a different story as the Dragons rained down like Smaug and put together a furious rally, culminating in a clutch Bowan Tomlin three-pointer with 34 seconds left that gave the visitors the lead for good as West Union made it five in a row with an thrilling 38-36 victory.
“You come over here to play and Coach (Rob) Beucler does such a great job defensively,” said West Union head coach Greg Himes. “He likes to play his style and we like to play our up and down style and he made us play his way in the first half. We are averaging 65 a game, so 38 in a night is not us, but not a lot of people score 65 on Eastern anyway.”
Offense was at a premium on both sides for the entire first half, with the home team grabbing the early advantage. After a three-pointer out of the corner by Elijah McCarty gave the Dragons a 5-4 lead with 3:52 left in the first quarter, the visitors did not put another point on the board for nearly six minutes. A three by Eastern’s T.J. Stivers matched the one of McCarty and began an 11-0 Warrior run that ended with a Dare Minton bucket in the final seconds, and the home side had thrown the first punch, leading 15-5 after the first eight minutes.
The second quarter was nothing short of an offensive disaster on both sides, caused by both a combination of poor shot selection and solid defensive play, resulting in a combined six points. No one scored for the first two minutes and 33 seconds when a McCarty free throw broke the ice. Two minutes later, Eastern’s Titus Burns fired in a three-pointer that gave the Warriors an 18-6 advantage, the only basket of the frame for the home team.
With 2:10 left in the first half, West Union’s Ryan Rothwell got his first basket of the game and the last for anyone in the half, and the two teams went to the intermission with a score more resembling a junior high game, the Warriors on top 18-8.
West Union fans in attendance had to believe that the first half was a fluke and that their squad would rebound as the third quarter began, and in reality, both teams began to zero in on the net and left the dismal first half behind. A three-point play by McCarty opened the second half scoring and just that single “basket and one” gave many the sense that the Dragons were awaking for their offensive slumber. A Rothwell basket followed and quickly the Dragons were back within 18-13, but Eastern’s Garyn Purdy drained a long three-pointer and then later hit a pair of free throws and a two-point goal to keep his team up 25-16, but that was when the Dragon really came to life.
Starting with a basket by Garrett Vogler, West Union brought their crowd to life by closing the third period on a 9-3 run, that included seven points from the suddenly hot Rothwell, and at the end of three, the Dragons had narrowed the deficit to 28-25.
“Ryan came out and just picked it up on both ends and I told him to just get to the rim on offense,” said Coach Himes.
As the fourth quarter began, the West Union roll continued as the Dragons scored the first eight points, with a baseline drive and score by Vogler giving them just their second lead of the game at 29-28. An Eastern turnover resulted in a Tomlin layup and a bucket by Zane Kingsolver on an out-of-bounds play put the Dragons in front 33-28 with 2:25 to play.
With 1:50 left, Eastern’s Burns hit another three and after the Dragons missed the front end of a one and one free throw situation, Burns repeated the feat from long distance to give the lead back to the home team at 34-33, but that lasted a whole of 16 seconds as Tomlin answered with a clutch “3” of his own that gave the advantage back to the visitors with 34.2 seconds remaining.
“Bowan is a shooter and if he gets an open look, we want him to take it,” said Himes. “If it goes in it looks great and makes me look good.”
After an Eastern turnover, Rothwell was fouled and hit both shots to extend the West Union lead to 38-34. Quickly, the Warriors came down and got an easy layup by Stivers and then fouled McCarty, who also missed the front end of the bonus, giving the Warriors a chance to win or tie. They missed their first shot attempt but Stivers grabbed the offensive board and was fouled with 1.8 seconds to go. The Eastern senior misfired on both free throws but on the second, a tip-in attempt by the Warriors’ Colton Vaughn was just off the mark and the elated Dragons had pulled off the improbable win, and moved their winning streak to five, hanging on for the nail-biting 38-36 win.
“We told the kids at halftime that we were right in the hunt in the SHAC and we asked them if they wanted to let that slip away after that first half,” added Coach Himes. “The kids just came out and did what they had to do in the second half and that shows the true character of a champion, when you can play the other team’s style and still get a win. That’s when you know you have a really good team.”
The second half comeback was spurred by the play of Rothwell and Tomlin as well as a solid defensive effort all round, and Rothwell’s 15 points led all scorers in the low-scoring affair. Tomlin added 9 for the Dragons, all in the second half, with McCarty tossing in 7. The Dragons nearly did themselves in at the charity stripe, hitting just 5 of 12 free throw attempts.
For Eastern, 11 points each from Burns and Purdy led the way. The Warriors fell to 5-6 overall and 204 in the SHAC.
With the win, the Dragons improved to 8-3 overall, and stayed right in the thick of the SHAC race with a 5-2 conference record, still just one game behind front-running Ripley in the big school division. If the Dragons can hold serve on Friday night against Lynchburg at home (weather permitting) and Fairfield at home on Jan. 19, no small tasks, they will host the Blue Jays on Jan. 22.
5 3 17 13 –38
15 3 10 8 –36
W. Union (38): Rothwell 6 2-2 15, Vogler 2 1-3 5, McCarty 2 2-6 7, Tomlin 4 0-1 9, Kingsolver 1 0-0 2, Team 15 5-12 38.
E. Brown (36): Stivers 2 0-2 5, Hamilton 2 0-0 5, Vaughn 1 0-2 2, Burns 4 0-0 11, Minton 1 0-0 2, Purdy 4 2-2 11, Team 14 2-6 36.
W. Union (3): Rothwell 1, McCarty 1, Tomlin 1
E. Brown (6): Stivers 1, Hamilton 1, Burns 3, Purdy 1