It was a tale of two games for the Mount Gilead boys’ basketball team.
Hosting Galion Thursday night, the Indians found themselves in a big hole in the first half after a strong start to the second quarter put the Tigers up 22-11 with 6:08 left in the half. However, they would finish the period on a flurry to close within two points at 30-28 and then scored 47 points in the second half to claim a 75-66 win.
“We’ve been grinding,” said MG coach Dan Strasser. “It’s already been a roller coaster of a year. That’s what every season is, but early on this year, we’ve had some highs and had some lows and it was great to see the guys battle back because that’s what we’ve been talking about. Grinding and being sandpaper; that’s been our motto. The guys were tonight. Not trying to come back all at once. Just trying to get stops and stacking those stops and scores together.”
Early on, though, it was Galion getting most of those stops. After MG took a quick 4-0 lead, the Tigers went on a 12-2 run sparked by eight Cooper Kent points to take a six-point lead. The Indians responded with a bucket by Matthew Bland and a Carson Trainer three-pointer, but Galion finished the quarter with a Quinn Miller three to hold a 15-11 advantage.
Mount Gilead transfer Elijah Chafin hit a three for Galion to open the second quarter and Kent added four more points to give the Tigers an 11-point lead, but MG would battle back. Cameron Vickers and Bland turned a pair of steals into a total of five points and Vickers added another bucket off an offensive rebound. After a Kent three, Rowan Fitzpatrick hit from downtown and Aaron Gannon picked up a pair of free throws to make it a 25-23 game.
“They (Mount Gilead) played hard, played physical,” said Galion coach Ryan Stover. “They forced our offense to be really stagnant tonight. We didn’t move it as well. I thought we played a little selfish, but credit to their defense. They really executed and we’ve got to play better.”
Galion was able to maintain a two-point lead going into the half, but the Indians took things over with a strong third quarter. Baskets by Carter Kennon, Gannon and Bland gave them their first lead since early in the first quarter at 34-32. The Tigers regained the advantage, but with the score 39-36 in favor of Galion, MG scored nine straight — four by Bland — to jump in front by six.
Leading 51-44 going into the fourth, the Indians got five straight by Kennon to open up a 12-point lead with 5:10 to go. Galion would battle back, getting five points from Kent and two each from Braylen Hart, Miller, Jackson Hart and Chafin to make it a 59-57 count with 2:40 to go.
Kennon would respond with a huge play for Mount Gilead, though. With his team holding a 61-59 advantage, he would drain a three-pointer, getting fouled in the process. He would convert from the charity stripe to extend the lead back to six with 1:57 remaining.
“That’s what you want out of a senior, a four-year starter,” said Strasser. “He’s been grinding, too. He’s coming off an injury. He’s had his roller coasters, as well. We told him to stick with it and keep grinding. That was a huge four-point play he had there; a huge second half. That’s what you want out of your senior.”
Galion would get back within four points a couple times down the stretch, but would be unable to score in the final minute of regulation, as the Indians were able to pull away for a nine-point win. Stover simply felt his team didn’t do enough on defense to slow MG down in the second half.
“We’ve got to continue working on our defense,” he said. “We gave up too many points. Credit to Mount Gilead, they executed the game plan and did what they needed to do. We’ll get ready. We have Northmor on Tuesday and they’re pretty good, too.”
The coach added that his team is pretty young and simply needs to learn from games like this. Kent finished with 27 points and Chafin had 20, while Jackson Hart finished with eight.
“We’re still learning,” he said. “Right now, I’m playing juniors and sophomores with a couple seniors. We’re still young and we’re still trying to figure out the varsity experience, but we’ll figure it out.”
For the Indians, Bland led the way with 23. Kennon had 20, all in the second half; while Gannon tallied 13. However, Strasser was most pleased with his team’s defense, which he cited as the key to his team turning a double-digit deficit into a nine-point win.
“It was the defense,” he said. “Just reminding guys that everything starts with our defense and rebounding. It starts our offense, it starts spurts. Everything is our defense and we’ve been preaching it a long time and the guys responded. Hopefully, that will catch on and hopefully, we can carry this on.”