SPARTA — It nearly all got away from the host Highland Scots, who managed to hold it together and shoot down the high-flying East Knox Bulldogs, 61-57, in nonconference basketball action on Tuesday.
The Scots controlled the tempo of the game extremely well in the first half and early in the second half, keeping the Bulldogs from running up and down the floor. Senior Andy Hein hit a 3-pointer for the Scots early in the third quarter. He followed it with a bucket on the Scots’ next trip down the court to make it a 31-18 game — the Scots’ biggest lead of the game.
“We did a nice job along those lines,” said Highland coach Mike Hoyng. “We were attacking in the right places early.”
“We just played a horrible first half,” said East Knox coach Don McDaniel. “We talked about playing our type of game and not getting into their type of game and we, obviously, didn’t do that. We let them control anything they wanted to do.”
Midway through the third, the Bulldogs started to mount a comeback. When forward Khai Haralson (5-of-5 field goals, 7-of-8 free throws, 17 points) missed the back half of a pair of free throws, Bulldogs’ center Luke Branstool (4-of-7 fgs, 13 points, nine rebounds) grabbed the rebound and got the putback to close the gap to six, 31-25.
Scots’ point guard Kyle Cremeans (6-of-10 fgs, five 3’s, 19 points, eight rebounds) answered by dropping in a 3-pointer to make it 34-25. Later, Colton Tucker (5-of-11 fgs) and Haralson each hit a pair of free throws and teammate Nick McCamment stole an errant pass from the Scots on the ensuing possession. Tucker missed a three-point attempt, but Branstool was fouled underneath by Highland’s Matt Stooksbury (11 points, three rebounds).
“In the second half we came out with a lot more energy and we turned it up defensively,” said McDaniel. “We got some turnovers and we started attacking the basket a little bit, which opened up some lanes for passing and stuff like that.”
“We’ve got to start learning how to finish games,” said Cremeans. “If we start ending games, we are going to win more games.”
With the Bulldogs down, 34-32, Branstool was going for his 999th and 1000th career points. More importantly, he had a chance to tie it up, but missed both free throws. Stooksbury hit a shot on the other end and then Branstool and the Bulldogs got another chance from the line. This time he connected on both to reach his milestone and put the Bulldogs back within a pair, 36-34, as the third quarter ran out.
Cremeans sank his third 3-pointer of the game to start the final quarter. He had two more 3s and teammate Greg Deckling (3-of-5 fgs, 4-of-4 fts) hit a bucket and converted on a foul shot to make a three point play of his own. Branstool hit a pair of baskets but the Scots had built a 50-40 advantage. The Scots shot 7-of-12 from 3-point range for 58.3 percent.
“I just started to feel it,” said Cremeans of his outside shooting. “Also, my teammates were giving me the ball.”
“I thought Kyle really stepped up and hit some huge shots for us when we really needed it,” said Hoyng. “When things were teetering back-and-forth and it could have gone either way, he stepped up and did what he was supposed to do. (Ethan) Zuber (seven points, three rebounds) did a good job around the post for us. We had good contributions. We just didn’t sustain things consistently like you have to. Hopefully, we learn from that and get better.”
The Bulldogs were not going away quietly. Haralson got a pair of baskets, one off a Colton Tucker (five-of-11 fgs, four-of-four 3’s, 17 points) assist, to make it 50-44 with 2:49 to go. Tucker had a 3-pointer with 18.6 seconds left in the game and, suddenly, it was 58-54.
A Stooksbury free throw, with seconds remaining, sealed the Bulldogs’ fate. Tucker’s fourth 3-pointer of the night landed too late.
A good comeback and a close game wasn’t good enough for McDaniel at this point in the season. He wants wins.
“We’re through with moral victories,” said McDaniel. “We expect to win every time we touch the floor. If we don’t win, it’s not enough. The kids did a lot of what we asked of them so I will take the blame for this one myself.”
East Knox is back in action on Friday, hosting Mid-Buckeye Conference foe Loudonville. Highland, meanwhile, is off until Saturday when it hosts River Valley in a Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference contest.