MASON, W.Va. — The difference was evident from the start.
Visiting Southern forced nine first quarter turnovers while building a 20-5 lead and eventually cruised to a 61-35 victory over the Wahama boys basketball team on Wednesday night in a Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division contest at Gary Clark Court in Mason County.
The White Falcons (3-10, 2-6 TVC Hocking) led 2-0 a little over a minute into regulation, but the Tornadoes (8-5, 6-3) countered with 11 straight points and hit six of their first 10 shots en route to a 16-4 edge with 2:12 left in the opening canto.
The hosts countered with a Dakota Belcher free throw at the 1:19 mark to close back to within 11 points, but the Red and White were ultimately never closer. Southern closed the final minute with a 4-0 run to take a 15-point advantage after the first period.
The Purple and Gold opened the second canto with a 17-5 charge to build a 37-10 cushion with 40 seconds remaining, their largest lead of the opening half. Noah Litchfield hit two free throws with no time left on the second quarter clock, allowing the guests to take a 37-12 lead into the break.
Southern’s defensive intensity caused havoc for most of the opening 16 minutes as Wahama had more turnovers (15) than points (12). The hosts netted only 4-of-21 field goal attempts before halftime, while SHS sank 15-of-31 floor attempts and surrendered only five turnovers.
Brayden Cunningham gave the guests their largest lead of the night with the opening basket of the second half, making it a 39-12 contest with 7:12 remaining. WHS, however, answered with a 10-2 run over the next five-plus minutes to close to within 41-22.
The Tornadoes reeled off four straight points, but Litchfield hit a trifecta right before the third quarter buzzer to make it a 45-25 contest headed into the finale.
The White Falcons closed to within 18 points on four separate occasions, the last of which came at 51-33 with 4:47 left in regulation. Southern closed the final 4:42 on a 10-2 run to wrap up the 26-point triumph.
Despite a 2-of-13 effort from the floor in the third quarter, the Purple and Gold still shot 44 percent from the field and committed only six of the 26 turnovers in the contest.
Wahama — which shot just 31 percent overall — did outrebound the guests by a 29-23 overall margin, including a 13-11 edge on the offensive glass.
After knocking off Trimble just 24 hours earlier, SHS coach Jeff Caldwell did acknowledge some concern headed into Wednesday night’s makeup affair.
It didn’t take the venerable mentor long, however, to realize that his pregame worries weren’t necessary. In fact, he was pretty much pleased with the way the entire night panned out.
“I was a little worried about our legs after the big win last night, but we came out in the first half and showed that we were ready to play,” Caldwell said. “It always has to start with our defense. When we play defense well, eventually our offense will come along. Right now, I think we are doing a better job of being focused at the start of games … or at least in these last couple of games.
“The other positive tonight was the way our kids understood the situation of the game in the second half. We had the lead and didn’t have to force anything. We missed a few layups, but we really did a good job of being patient and playing our game. I’m very proud of this win.”
WHS coach Ron Bradley, conversely, may be starting to feel like a broken record … mainly because he seems to be discussing the same issues after losses.
“Ultimately, it just keeps coming back to the same problem. We just cannot generate any offense,” Bradley said. “Teams are playing us tight and we’re not getting enough ball movement to create space or running our designed plays … and we are committing way too many turnovers. Until we make more of a conscience effort to be better offensively, I don’t see how things are going to change.”
The Tornadoes connected on 22-of-55 field goal attempts, including a 5-of-14 effort from behind the arc for 36 percent. The guests were also 12-of-14 at the free throw line for 86 percent.
Brayden Cunningham led a balanced Southern attack with 14 points, followed by Jensen Anderson with 13 points and Weston Thorla with a dozen markers.
Austin Baker and Trey McNickle respectively added eight and six points to the winning cause, while Dylan Smith tacked on four points to go along with a team-best six rebounds.
Colton Parker and Larry Dunn completed the scoring with two points apiece. Thorla also hauled in four boards for the victors.
Wahama netted 13-of-42 shot attempts overall, including a 1-of-4 effort from three-point range for 25 percent. The hosts were also 8-of-10 at the free throw line for 80 percent.
Belcher led WHS with a double-double effort of 19 points and 12 rebounds, both of which were game-highs. Litchfield was next with nine points and six boards, while Tyler Bumgarner added three markers.
Abram Pauley and Isaiah Pauley completed the White Falcon tally with two points apiece. Abram Pauley also hauled in six caroms in the setback.
Both teams return to TVC Hocking action on Friday as Southern hosts Federal Hocking and Wahama travels to Miller. Both contests will begin at approximately 7 p.m.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.