TUPPERS PLAINS, Ohio — About as close as it can get.
The Eastern boys basketball team needed overtime on Wednesday night, but the Eagles held on for a 54-53 victory over Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division guest Wahama, at ‘The Nest’.
The White Falcons (7-7, 7-5 TVC Hocking) sank four trifectas in the opening period, but only led by a 18-14 count at the end of the quarter.
WHS cooled off from beyond the arc in the second quarter, missing all five three-point tries in the eight minute span. However, Wahama still outscored the Eagles (5-12, 4-9) by a 10-9 clip in the second canto, pushing the advantage to 28-23 by halftime.
“The coaching staff just preached execution,” EHS third-year head coach Jeremy Hill said of his halftime adjustments. “We drew up their offense and told them what they needed to do to step up. This ball club just has to learn to play better ball. We have to do a better job defensively, we have to execute offensively and get the ball to the hole. We were settling for jumpers that were not falling.”
The Eagles came out of the half hot, hitting four three-pointers in the third canto and taking a 39-37 lead into the fourth.
“We were up five at halftime and I told the guys ‘we need to go out and match their intensity’,” third-year Wahama head coach Ron Bradley said. “(Eastern) came out, played hard and pushed past us in the third quarter. The third quarter has been our downfall all season long, we’ve not played well and we talked about it at practice the other day.”
The teams exchanged three leads in the fourth quarter, but sat tied at 47 with 30 seconds left in regulation. Eastern’s attempted game-winning jumper bounced off the back iron and the teams readied for overtime. However, Wahama headed to overtime without the services of starter Mason Hicks, who fouled out with 4:20 remaining in regulation.
“I thought we’d get a few more minutes out of (Hicks) and I left him out there,” Bradley said. “It may not have been a very wise decision on my part, but that’s something you’ve got to live with. It really hurt us down the stretch.”
Eastern took a two-point lead within the opening minute of the extra session, but a WHS three-pointer gave the White Falcons a one-point advantage with two minutes remaining. The Eagles battled back to tie the game with 35 seconds left, and took the lead on a Austin Coleman free throw at the 25 second mark. Wahama was fouled on a three-point try with .1 second on the clock, but all three free throws were missed and EHS claimed the 54-53 victory.
“To be honest, we probably don’t deserve to have this win tonight,” Hill said. “We really didn’t play our best basketball, but I really do believe that — even though we lost to Wahama earlier on — we are a better ball club than they are. We just gave it to them over there. Tonight, we pulled through and got it.”
The EHS offense was led by Jett Facemyer with 23 points and Chase Curtis with 14. Corbett Catlett and Dillon Swatzel both scored five points, with Swatzel recording a team-high 10 rebounds.
Cameron Richmond recorded four points, six boards and a game-best seven assists, while Ross Keller and Austin Coleman rounded out the EHS offense with two points and one point in the win. Richmond also led the EHS defense with four steals, while Swatzel and Facemyer each posted a steal and a block.
Eastern shot 6-of-15 (40 percent) from the free throw line and 21-of-60 (34.4 percent) from the field, including 6-of-18 (33.3 percent) from three-point range. Collectively, the Eagles had 27 defensive rebounds, seven offensive boards, 13 assists, eight steals, two blocked shots and 17 turnovers.
“This ball club doesn’t communicate,” Hill said. “I think they’re just used to texting each other all the time, and so they don’t communicate with each other on defense. That’s all they needed to do. It all comes down to defense, we’re just not a very good defensive ball club and we have to work on it.”
WHS junior Philip Hoffman led the White Falcons with 31 points and nine rebounds, followed by Hicks with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Ryan Thomas posted eight points and a team-best six assists, while Nolan Pierce and Tyler Kearns both marked two points, with Pierce pulling in nine rebounds.
The Wahama defense was led by Thomas and Noah Litchfield with three steals each, while Hoffman had two steals and a rejection.
The Red and White shot 10-of-20 (50 percent) from the charity stripe and 19-of-54 (35.2 percent) from the field, including 5-of-18 (27.8 percent) from three-point range. The White Falcons combined for 27 defensive rebounds, nine offensive boards, 13 assists, nine steals, two blocks and 15 turnovers.
“Free throw shooting has been a thorn in our side all season long,” Bradley said. “We managed beat Federal Hocking on Tuesday night shooting 13-for 29 from the line. Layups, free throws and rebounds win a lot of basketball games. We’re missing a lot of layups and free throws right now, and it’s coming back to kill us.”
Wahama — which defeated EHS by a 36-34 count on December 11, in Mason — returns to action on Friday night when the White Falcons visit Miller. WHS claimed a 76-60 victory over the Perry County natives on January 5, in Mason.
“We have to bounce back now and get ready for Miller on Friday night,” Bradley said. “We do layup drill after layup drill, free throw drill after free throw drill, and we’re still not converting. I know a lot of it on the layups is that we’re looking for contact when there’s no contact there and we’re not focusing on the basket. It’s just little things like that, that we have to continue to work on. We have to continue to drill on free throws and hope our free throw shooting comes around.”
Eastern — which has won four consecutive home games —will try to make it five straight at ‘The Nest’ on Friday when South Gallia travels to Tuppers Plains. The Rebels knocked off EHS by a 74-59 final on January 5, in Mercerville.
“When you only win two ball games a year and you get five this year, I don’t know if its called momentum or luck,” said Hill. “I do know this, our confidence is building at the right time of the year, and now we just have to play better basketball.”
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.