TUPPERS PLAINS, Ohio — A great start is nice, a strong finish is even better, but neither matter if you don’t play well in the middle.
The South Gallia boys basketball team outscored Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division host Eastern by 18 points in the middle two periods of Friday night’s showdown at ‘The Nest’, and the Rebels held on for a 53-46 victory.
Eastern (5-13, 4-10 TVC Hocking) was successful on 6-of-11 shot attempts in the opening period, including a pair of trifectas by senior Chase Curtis, which helped the Green and Gold bolt out to a 16-9 lead by the conclusion of the first.
However, the EHS shooters cooled off and made only 2-of-17 field goal tries in the second canto, opening the door for the Rebels (15-3, 11-2) to get right back in the game. SGHS took full advantage of the opening, scoring 17 points in the stanza, highlighted by three Kane Hutchinson trifectas.
At halftime, the Rebels held a 26-21 advantage on the scoreboard and a 18-to-17 advantage in rebounding, but surrendered eight offensive boards to the Green and Gold.
The Red and Gold scored the first six points of the second half, pushing the lead to double-digits at 32-21 with 6:00 to play in the third quarter. Eastern battled back to withing eight points, but a Joseph Ehman three-pointer beat the buzzer to give the Rebels a 41-30 lead with eight minutes left in regulation.
Three minutes into the finale, South Gallia’s lead grew to a game-high 13 points, but the Eagles whittled the deficit back to nine points with 45 seconds remaining. SGHS gave the Eagles an opportunity, missing the front end of a 1-and-1 on three occasions in the final minute, but Eastern only managed one field goal in the stretch and fell by a 53-46 final.
“At halftime we told them ‘you’ve gotta get after it on the boards’,”SGHS head coach Larry Howell said. “We knew they had size, but we had to match them with effort. It’s one thing to make them take a tough shot, but you have to finish the play. Once we started finishing the play, we got out and ran, and we’re pretty good in the open floor.”
Ehman led Red and Gold with 19 points, four assists and three steals, while Kane Hutchinson added 15 points and six rebounds. Landon Hutchinson scored seven points, Darrin Drenner recorded six points and six rebounds, while Caleb Henry marked four points for the Rebels. Dominick Johnson rounded out the SGHS offense with two points, to go with a team-best eight rebounds and one blocked shot.
South Gallia shot just 3-of-12 (25 percent) from the free throw line, but hit 22-of-48 (45.8 percent) field goal attempts, including 6-of-16 (37.5 percent) from three-point range. As a team the Rebels recorded 22 defensive rebounds, nine offensive boards, 13 assists, five steals, one block and seven turnovers.
“Hat’s off to South Gallia, they’re having a great season,” EHS head coach Jeremy Hill said. “Their defense was the difference. They took passing lanes away from us with their zone defense and that made it really difficult for us. The kept pushing us away from the basket.”
Curtis led the Eagles with 15 points on five trifectas, while recording the lone blocked shot for EHS. Jett Facemyer scored 13 points, Dillon Swatzel recorded 12 points and a game-best 14 rebounds, while Cameron Richmond, Ross Keller and Corbett Catlett each scored two points in the setback. Richmond led EHS in assists with five and steals with two.
The Eagles shot 7-of-16 (43.8 percent) from the free throw line and 17-of-54 (31.5 percent) from the field, including 5-of-20 (25 percent) from beyond the arc. As a team the Green and Gold marked 23 defensive rebounds, 13 offensive rebounds, nine assists, two steals, one block and eight turnovers.
“It’s a good win,” Howell said. “Coach Hill’s kids played really hard, and they play a lot better with Richmond. We knew it was going to be tough. We battled through the first quarter and then Joseph, Landon and Kane got going a little bit. We got some stops defensively, coming down the stretch.”
South Gallia also topped the Green and Gold on January 5, by a 74-59 count in Mercerville.
The Rebels — which hosted Trimble on Saturday — will return to the court on Tuesday, when Wahama visits Gallia County. SGHS claimed a 63-57 victory over the White Falcons on January 8, in Mason.
“We’re 180 degrees better of a basketball team,” Hill said. “We’re starting to understand what it means to play hard, we’re starting to understand what it means to play as a team and they’re doing a lot of things better. We really want to get what I refer to as a signature win. Something we can hang our hat on, to give us the confidence that we can play with good teams when we roll into the tournament.”
EHS — which welcomed Green to the nest on Saturday — returns to action on Tuesday, at Federal Hocking. Eastern topped FHHS by a 57-45 on January 8, in Tuppers Plains.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.