TUPPERS PLAINS, Ohio — One hot streak can make for a great night.
The Southern boys basketball team hit five three-pointers in the opening quarter of Friday night’s 53-45 SHS victory over Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division host Eastern.
The Tornadoes (4-17, 4-11 TVC Hocking) were 5-of-8 from beyond the arc in the opening period, while adding a two-pointer and two free throws to give the guests 19 points. Eastern (6-14, 4-11) — which never led in the contest — made only 3-of-12 first-quarter field goal attempts and trailed by a 19-7 margin, eight minutes into play.
By the 4:30 mark of the second quarter, Southern built its lead to a game-high 19 points, at 31-12. However, the Eagles ended the half with a 7-1 run that made the score 32-19 at halftime.
In the first half, Southern shot 7-of-15 from three-point range and 7-of-8 from the free throw line. Eastern held a narrow 13-to-12 rebounding edge and a 8-to-9 advantage in turnovers in the first half, but the Eagles shot just 6-of-22 from the field, including 0-of-5 from deep.
The Southern shooters cooled off after the half, missing all 10 field goal attempts in the third quarter, while going 3-of-6 from the free throw line. The hosts shot 5-of-13 in the third quarter and trailed 35-31 with eight minutes remaining in regulation.
EHS began the fourth quarter with an 8-5 run that trimmed the deficit to one point, 40-39, with four minutes to play. Southern answered with back-to-back three-point plays to extend the lead to 46-39 with three minutes left. The Purple and Gold hit 7-of-10 free throws in the final 180 seconds to cap off the 53-45 victory.
“I thought it was really just a defensive struggle and it just came down to finally getting some stops and getting some rebounds,” ninth-year SHS head coach Jeff Caldwell said. “We had trouble keeping them off the boards for most of the game, so finally getting a few defensive rebounds late in the game was big. We were able to take care of the ball at the end of the game and hit some foul shots.”
Eastern finished with a 33-to-23 rebounding advantage, including a 15-to-8 edge on the offensive glass. For the game, Southern finished with six assists, six steals, three block and 15 turnovers, while EHS marked five assists, five steals, five rejections and 16 turnovers.
“The kids started executing on offense and the defense stepped up,” third-year EHS head coach Jeremy Hill said of the difference in the two halves. “Mostly, I think Southern just had a really hot hand in the first half. They shot the ball extremely well and our shooting was bad. In the second half we shot the ball better, we got the ball to the rim like we needed and I think that was the difference.”
The Purple and Gold shot 19-of-27 (70.4 percent) from the free throw line and 13-of-38 (34.2 percent) from the field, including 8-of-21 (38.1 percent) from beyond the arc. The Eagles made 14-of-21 (66.7 percent) free throw attempts and 15-of-48 (31.3 percent) field goal attempts, including just 1-of-11 (9.1 percent) three-point tries.
“If you live by the three, you can also die by the three,” Hill said. “It’s not that we live by the three, but those were the shots we did not want to take. We wanted to get the ball to the hole, some decided that a three was a better shot for them and unfortunately they didn’t make it.”
Southern was led by Tylar Blevins with 19 points, seven rebounds and two assists, followed by Crenson Rogers with nine points and four boards. Trey Pickens recorded seven points and six rebounds, Blake Johnson added seven points and two assists, while Dylan Smith scored five points in the win. Jaylen Blanks and Kody Greene rounded out the SHS offense with three points each.
“These guys have been learning all year,” Caldwell said. “We’ve had games like this that we didn’t find a way to win. Tonight, we found a way to win and I know that both teams probably feel like they could play better. We’ll just take the win and move on.”
Blevins also led the Purple and Gold defensively with two steals and a blocked shot, while Smith recorded two rejections and one steal.
Jett Facemyer led the Green and Gold with 20 points, followed by Ross Keller with 13 points and seven rebounds. Dillon Swatzel marked six points and a game-high nine boards, while Chase Curtis and Cameron Richmond each recorded three points and six rebounds.
Curtis posted a team-best two assists, Swatzel led the Eagle defense with four blocks and one steal, while Richmond added two steals to the EHS cause.
The season series between Eastern and Southern now sits tied at 1-1, as the Eagles defeated the Purple and Gold by a 54-44 margin on January 12, in Racine. The rivalry won’t remained tied for long however, as these teams will face off again in the Division IV sectional semifinal at Meigs High School on Wednesday.
“Jeff Caldwell is a friend of mine and he’s a heck of a coach,” Hill said. “Southern should be very gracious that they have him as their coach, he’s done a phenomenal job for several years now. I know he’s going to get his ball club even more prepared than what they were tonight, but I think we have a little bit extra to give to them. We’re going to get prepared and give it a go on Wednesday.”
Eastern does not play again before the sectional semifinal, but the Tornadoes wrapped up their regular season on Saturday, when Miller visited Racine.
“We know it’s going to be a tough game come tournament time,” Caldwell said. “We’ll take the win and just get ready for the next game.”
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext 2100.