UTICA — The East Knox Bulldogs’ boys basketball program turned a page on Friday night.
A total team effort and 18 points by center Luke Branstool helped to lift the visiting Bulldogs to a 71-62 victory over the Utica Redskins in the Mid-Buckeye Conference opener. With the win, the Bulldogs (2-0, 1-0 MBC) matched their conference win total for all of last season.
“It isn’t easy to win in the MBC,” said East Knox coach Don McDaniel. “You know, we only got one last year and we’re planning on a few more this year. I’m really proud of the kids, They did a great job. They didn’t back down from anybody even though this is Utica and we’re not supposed compete against them in basketball. Our kids didn’t back down.”
After a seesaw first half that saw the Bulldogs, down 7-0, make a 21-3 run, the gap closed. Utica’s (0-3, 0-1 MBC) Kyle Walton (11 points) fed Joe Metzger (10 points), who hit a bucket early in the third to tie the score at 28-28.
Midway through the third, Utica’s Justin Dassylva drove the lane to tie it again, 35-35. Dassylva led all scorers with 24 points. He also had 13 of the Redskins’ 33 rebounds.
“We rely on Justin to do a lot of things for us,” said Utica coach Eric Sheck. “He’s doing a great job for us. We’ve just got to have other guys step up. It’s not panic time yet, but we have to continue to get better and that’s all we can ask out of our kids.”
It was in the middle and, eventually, at the line that the Bulldogs finally proved too much for the Redskins. Branstool made several important shots, including one off an offensive rebound midway through the fourth to raise the Bulldog lead to 54-49. Branstool finished the night with 13 rebounds.
“Our kids matured a lot tonight,” said McDaniel. “They learned what it takes to finish a team off. I felt we had the upper edge on them all night, but we kept letting them get back into it. We’d miss a block out or a rebound or we would give up a wide-open shot.”
Utica’s Jason Hoar, playing in great pain with an injured thumb, hit a 3-pointer with 3:39 left in the game to close the Redskins to within two points, 54-52. That was his only basket, but it couldn’t have come at a better time for Sheck.
“Jason has been around me ever since I’ve been here,” said Sheck. “He’s a tough kid. He’s a competitor and he is playing through a lot of pain right now. He’s going to have surgery in a couple of weeks. Any leadership his presence on the floor provides is always a benefit. He’s a kid who has worked hard and he has put himself in a position to succeed.”
The Bulldogs were more than a match for anything the Redskins had. Branstool hit another bucket inside, with a little more than two minutes remaining, to further extend East Knox’ advantage to 61-52. That, along with good foul shooting and no turnovers in the fourth quarter, finally put the Bulldogs over the top.
“Down the stretch, we committed a couple of fouls,” said Sheck. “(East Knox) knocked down their free throws and we just missed a couple of shots. With a (close) game like that, it comes down to execution and we just didn’t happen to knock down two shots and they knocked down their free throws late in the game.”
“All of our kids had a heck of a game tonight,” said McDaniel. “I just can’t talk about Luke. We asked our kids to do what their role is. Everybody played their role tonight. Yeah, Luke had a lot of points, but we expected that out of him. Everybody played their role tonight. Our kids kept working, kept trying and — finally — the hit their foul shots down the stretch. We missed a few, but we made the ones that counted. That’s what helped us pull away.”
Kevin Walton and Adam Ridenbaugh each added five points for the Redskins. Drew Faucett had 12 for the Bulldogs. Teammate Nick McCamment added 10, while Khai Haralson had eight, Toney Johnson had seven, Devin Faucett had six and Devin Wears had five for the Bulldogs.