BIDWELL, Ohio — With some snow on the ground on Friday night, the host Raiders at least did enough to regain their footing.
That’s because River Valley, in stymieing the Wellston Golden Rockets to a mere three points in the decisive fourth quarter, emerged with a needed 38-34 Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division boys basketball win.
That’s correct — as the offensive-oriented Raiders did the job defensively this time.
While Wellston was only averaging 34 points per game, River Valley still had to overcome a pair of lost leads — 14-7 in the second stanza and 24-16 and 26-18 in the third frame.
In fact, in a contest which featured five lead changes and two ties, the Golden Rockets staked a 33-29 advantage with only six minutes and five seconds to play.
However, in that final 6:05, the only other Wellston point was a single made free throw by Matt Simpson.
The Raiders finished the game on a 9-1 run — which was sealed by playing airtight defense on an inbounds pass with nine seconds remaining.
The Golden Rockets, trailing 36-34, forced a turnover with 34 seconds left — with the Raiders attempting to milk the clock.
After an exchange of timeouts, Wellston’s Noah Henry inbounded from the side towards the basket, where big man Matt Simpson gained position underneath against River Valley’s six-foot six-inch Jacob Dovenbarger.
But the lob pass — with River Valley simply switching screens on the play — was slightly out of Simpson’s reach, and resulted in a turnover to the Raiders.
With six seconds to go, Jarret McCarley — who poured in a game-high 18 points — made a pair of free throws to ice the close victory for River Valley.
“It was a great defensive effort from all the guys,” said River Valley coach Bryan Drummond. “We got confused a few times because we put in some new stuff this week, like our matchup zone, and we made a couple of mistakes down the stretch. But we still managed to do enough to win and that is all that matters. And anytime we get a league win in this crazy league, especially this year, we’re happy.”
For the Raiders, it was quite the turnaround they had with Wellston from clear back on Dec. 13.
In that meeting, the Golden Rockets rained in eight three-point goals — en route to routing the Raiders 61-41.
This time, they only canned three threes — and only five Rockets registered in the scoring column, with none in double figures.
Henry hit a baseline jumper at the 6:05 mark to make it 33-29, but that was the final Golden Rocket field goal.
After trailing 9-7 following the first period and 18-16 at halftime, Wellston amounted six baskets in the third quarter —more than its seven in the entire first half.
The Golden Rockets racked up 15 third-period points, erasing a 26-18 deficit with a 13-2 run in the final 6:07.
“Give all the credit to River Valley. They did a good job defensively, switching between multiple defenses to try and keep us off-balance,” said Wellston coach Joe Briggs. “In the third quarter, we were way more patient and moved the basketball and got high-quality shots. In the fourth quarter, we got too passive on offense, and a few of the shots we did take were maybe forced or weren’t exactly there. We’ve had quarters like the fourth quarter all year, so it’s not the first time, but a lot of that had to do with River Valley’s defense.”
According to Drummond, his Raiders — which drained a half-dozen treys including four from McCarley, got complacent on offense.
He also credited the Golden Rockets, which were just as up to the task defensively as River Valley was.
“We came out and played well early in the third quarter, which is normally a good sign to win a basketball game when you already have the lead. But we settled offensively for some threes, didn’t hit them. Then some of our offenses that normally work weren’t working against them. They (Golden Rockets) obviously play hard defense too,” he said. “They did a good job on Dovenbarger, and we didn’t get many transition points. We are normally close to 20 points in transition points per game, but tonight I’d say we were 10 or less.”
While the transition points weren’t there on Friday, the three-ball and free throws were.
Layne Fitch found the range twice from deep, and McCarley meshed all four of his foul shots in the fourth.
Dovenbarger, on three field goals and 2-of-4 freebies, dropped in eight points — while Dustin Barber bagged two buckets and Patrick Brown hit two third-quarter free throws.
Both clubs crafted a pair of spurts, as the Raiders erased an early 7-4 deficit with 10 unanswered points.
Wellston went scoreless for four minutes and five seconds, then strung together its own 6-1 run over the next 4:35.
The Raiders then responded with nine more unanswered over the next 2:45, taking a 24-16 lead after back-to-back threes by Fitch and McCarley.
That set up the Rockets’ 13-2 spree, which was then countered by the Raiders’ game-ending 10-3 burst — over the final eight-and-a-half minutes.
With the win, River Valley raised its record to 7-11 — and 2-6 in the TVC-Ohio.
“This was the first close game we’ve won all year,” said Drummond. “And tonight was a 24-point turnaround from when Wellston beat us up there, so we’re playing better. An ugly win is always better than the other option.”
The loss left Wellston with a 3-12 mark, and a 1-7 tally in the division.
Simpson, on three field goals and 3-0f-4 second-half foul shots, paced the Golden Rockets with nine points.
Daivon Newell netted four field goals for eight, while Henry hit for three baskets for six.
Mike Graham, with a pair of trifectas, and Hunter Whalen — with a deuce and a trey — rounded out the Wellston scoring.
The Raiders return home, and return to TVC-Ohio Division action, on Tuesday night against Alexander.
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106