CENTENARY, Ohio — It almost appeared that the Blue Devils again would be heartbroken by a late-game three-pointer.
However, Gallia Academy wasn’t going to allow itself to be scorned yet again.
That’s because the host Blue Devils — after trailing Ironton early and even once again very late, first forced an overtime, then captured a hard-fought 51-48 Ohio Valley Conference boys basketball victory on Tuesday night.
In a physical affair that also saw shifts from Ironton slowing the tempo to Gallia Academy’s fast-paced style, Ironton almost broke the Blue Devils’ hearts once more.
With GAHS already spurned by last-second threes in losses to Point Pleasant and Jackson, the Fighting Tigers’ Ryan Bryant bagged a go-ahead three with exactly a minute in regulation.
This time, however, the Blue Devils didn’t go down.
In fact, they forged overtime at 38-38, thanks to Evan Wiseman’s interception of an Ironton inbounds pass — and subsequent made free throw with 14.6 seconds remaining.
Then in overtime, after Ethan Wilson scored the opening points for the Fighting Tigers, Gallia Academy answered with nine unanswered points —taking its largest lead at 47-40 with only 53 seconds to play.
From there, the Fighting Tigers tried to claw back — and kept cutting their deficits to 47-43, 48-45 and finally 50-48 with seven-and-a-half seconds to go.
But Blue Devil senior Miles Cornwell converted the first of two final free throws, as Kyle Adkins’ game-tying three-point attempt for Ironton ended up off the mark.
With the win, Gallia Academy improved to 11-4 — and 7-2 in the OVC.
The loss left the Tigers at an even 8-8 — and only at 4-6 in the league.
For the Blue and White, in addition to its fifth consecutive victory, Tuesday’s triumph was signature in learning from early — and even gut-wrenching — setbacks.
Doug Workman of Point Pleasant popped an overtime-forcing triple in the season’s second game, then Jackson’s Bryce Hall hit a buzzer-beating trifecta for another difficult defeat.
“At the beginning of the year against Point Pleasant, we’re in the same predicament. Missed free throws. A kid makes a three to send it to overtime. Against Jackson, they hit a three to beat us at the buzzer. I think, with those two games, we’ve grown up,” said Gallia Academy coach Gary Harrison. “Tonight, the (Ryan) Bryant kid steps out and makes a big three over Zach (Loveday). It’s part of the game, but at the beginning of the year, our kids wouldn’t have fought back. But we fought back tonight and got a great win.”
On Tuesday, the Blue Devils fought back from a 14-5 first-quarter deficit — which was Ironton’s largest lead at the two-and-a-half minute mark.
The Fighting Tigers scored the first five points, then Cornwell canned a trey for a 5-3 deficit at the 5:15 point.
For the next eight-and-a-half minutes, the Blue Devils worked to reduce the deficit down to one — which they finally did at 19-18.
“We didn’t make any shots, and that hurt us. We missed a lot of short shots, we didn’t make any threes except towards the end. But we didn’t pout, we didn’t complain and we didn’t argue. We found a way to win,” said Harrison.
And, how they won was with defense — especially inside with six-foot, 11-inch freshman Zach Loveday.
Loveday recorded a dozen blocked shots, forcing the Tigers to pass the ball around the perimeter — and keeping them outside the lane.
His biggest block was likely his last, when he swatted Jourdyn Barrow on a rebound putback as time expired in regulation.
“At times, I thought we attacked him (Loveday) pretty good, and other times he’s going to get some of his (blocked shots) because of his length,” said Ironton coach Mark LaFon. “I was a little disappointed in getting some of our jump shots blocked. That should never happen. But you don’t see many guys like him, where you are seeing the space between you and the shot and how fast his length can close on you.”
Loveday, with two field goals and 4-of-4 free throws for eight points, almost posted a triple-double —as he also grabbed 10 rebounds.
The Blue Devils, in trailing 26-21 with 3:40 left in the third quarter, ended the stanza with 10 unanswered points —and took their first lead at 27-26 at the 2:15 mark.
The only Tiger points of the period were a pair of field goals — by Wilson only a minute-and-a-half in and by Barrow only two minutes and 50 seconds later.
Wilson, with four two-pointers and 2-of-4 foul shots in addition to his overtime three, led all scorers with 13 points.
And, the Blue Devils did all of this without Justin Peck —the six-foot, five-inch forward who was saddled with foul trouble the entire night.
Peck only had a fourth-quarter free throw, before fouling out with two-and-a-half minutes left to play.
“Our past five games we’ve held our opponents to under 50 (points), so that’s why we’re winning,” said Harrison. “Defense is going to win championships and take us to where we want to go. I know we can score a little bit, and that will get better, but defensively, we’re locked in right now.”
But Bryant, who entered the fourth quarter with a field goal and 4-of-6 free throws, buried the go-ahead three-ball from the left wing — giving Ironton a 38-37 advantage.
However, Wiseman stole the inbounds at the 15-second mark, and actually was pushed by Bryant for his fifth and final foul.
After his game-tying freebie, Wiseman followed back-to-back Cory Call baskets with a corner three — making it 45-40 with 1:15 remaining.
“We were getting contributions from everybody tonight. We made free throws, Justin McClelland made free throws, Evan Wiseman makes a big three in overtime. Cory Call made some steals and a couple layups. Defensively, he guarded (Ethan) Wilson and Evan (Wiseman) guarded Wilson and did an incredible job,” said Harrison. “Ironton is good and Coach (Mark) LaFon does a great job with them. It’s just a great win. Ironton is very physical and I challenged our kids at halftime to come out and be physical with them and they were.”
Wiseman and Justin McClelland paced the Blue Devils with 11 points apiece, as both made four field goals — while McClleland converted 7-of-11 foul shots.
He sank 4-of-5 in the third period, as Gallia Academy attempted 29 free throws — and drained 18.
The final 24 attempts were in the final 20 minutes, as Ironton only attempted 13 and made seven.
Call collected four buckets and 2-of-3 free throws for 10 points, while Cornwell chipped in a fourth-quarter field goal and 2-of-4 overtime foul shots for seven.
Gage Harrison hit a three-pointer in the second quarter.
The Blue Devils return home, and return to OVC action, on Friday night against Coal Grove.
“We’ve won five in a row now, and we’re starting to have a feeling of each other,” said Coach Harrison. “It’s getting fun and these kids are having fun. It’s just a big win for our program. We put so much time in with these kids and they deserve it.”
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106