KETTERING — Slow, scared, stupid, soft was replaced by fast, confident, tough, relentless.
Just like that, a 47-30 Wilmington deficit was replaced by a 67-63 Hurricane win over Walnut Ridge Saturday night in Flyin’ To The Hoop at Fairmont High School.
And all because of four simple words written on a chalk board at halftime.
“We weren’t playing Wilmington basketball in the first half,” WHS head coach Michael Noszka said in his post-game interview in the bowels of Trent Arena. “We played with no energy. We played with no enthusiasm, or effort.”
Wilmington basketball was vividly on display in the second half, especially late in the game. The Hurricane quintet was all over the hardwood, grabbing offensive rebounds, forcing turnovers, battling it out below the knees.
It all started with Cincinnati-bound Jarron Cumberland out of the game with four fouls. The high-scoring senior went to the bench at the 4:41 mark with the Hurricane trailing 57-54.
“We knew we had to pick it up, give more effort with him off the floor,” said sophomore Dylan Beaugard.
Cameron Stewart started the turnaround with a steal but was unable to convert at the rim. However, Matt Creditt grabbed the missed shot and scored to cut the difference to 57-56.
At the other end, Beaugard showed his versatility by skying for a behind-the-shooter blocked shot on a seemingly certain two points in the lane. Then at 3:44, Beaugard finished a coast to coast dribbling showcase with a lay-in that put the Hurricane on top for good, 58-57.
Beaugard then came up with a backcourt steal and assist when Alex Miller put in an easy two, 60-57. Miller then had a blocked shot at the defensive end to keep the Hurricane on top. Down the stretch, Wilmington converted 7 of 10 at the free throw line and kept the Scots’ offense off stride enough to secure a signature win.
“At the end of the day, we found out we could take a punch, get knocked down and get back up,” said Noszka. “We can’t be afraid to play. We want to be throwing haymakers, not sitting there reacting to what the other guy’s doing. We’ve been through this enough. They know how to play. I shouldn’t have to do that at halftime. We should be playing that way the entire game.”
Cumberland led all scorers with 24 and Stewart had 13 but contributions came from all points on the floor. Miller led wiith 11 rebounds. Beaugard had five assists and three steals.
Walnut Ridge, playing without Malik Harrison who was on a football visit to Ohio State, had four players in double figures — Azende Johnson with 18, Tarik Wright with 16, Kalib Younger with 13 and James Manns with 12.
The No. 6 Hurricane (12-0 on the year) had fans muttering to themselves with their play in the first half. Walnut Ridge ripped the nets for 10 first half 3-pointers, including a perfect 6-for-6 in building an 18-9 lead. Had to figure Walnut Ridge would not be able to keep that shooting pace … right? Yes, but 4-for-8 from long distance the rest of the way was good enough for a 47-30 halftime lead.
“They hit a lot of tough shots in the first half, but that shouldn’t have anything to do with what we’re doing. They hit a tough shot … we should be running down to the other end. So what, they hit a three, go the other way.”
At the intermission, Noszka relayed his displeasure with the Hurricane in four words.
“We put four words up on the board at half … .soft, scared, stupid, slow,” he said. “It wasn’t anything with scheme. We pur four on (the board) at the end of the game … tough, confident, fast, relentless.”
As the second half unfolded, Wilmington seemed to be a bit lethargic early in the third. But the Scots were ice cold and the Hurricane just chipped away.
Stewart drained a three then a two to force a Walnut Ridge timeout at 5:35 with the difference down to 52-40. Stewart hit another three at 4:10 and suddenly it was a five-point game, 52-47.
Jeffrey Mansfield, who seems to spend as much time diving on the floor as he does standing on two feet, hit the deck and threw a ball of a Walnut Ridge player’s leg to cause a turnover.
Miller kept alive a WHS possession with one of his six offensive rebounds and Cumberland cashed in to make it 52-49 at 2:26 of the third. Chris Wolary’s old-fashioned three-point play with 1:53 to go in the third tied the game at 52-52 and capped a 22-5 WHS run.
But the Scots scored the final five points of the third to push the Hurricane deficit to 57-52 after three quarters. Was the Hurricane comeback winds dying down? No.
The between quarters respite energized WHS to the tune of a 12-0 quarter-starting run that clinched the rally. And it could have been more, but the Hurricane missed several from point-blank range, a few from offensive rebounds.
“(We gave up) 47 points in the first half,” Noszka lamented. “(We gave up) 16 in the second half. We don’t want to be coming out of the lockerroom of a district or regional game down 17. That makes it really, really hard. We’re growing as a team. I was proud of the effort, how hard we fought to come back. We were really, really relentless, competed in the second half.”
Jan. 16, 2016
(63) WALNUT RIDGE (fg-3fg-ft-tp) Younger 5-3-0-13 Hairston 0-0-0-0 Manns 4-2-2-12 Taylor 1-1-0-3 Wright 6-2-2-16 Johnson 7-4-0-18 Tyler 0-0-1-1 Reissland 0-0-0-0 Stanford 0-0-0-0. TOTLAS 23-12-5-63
(67) WILMINGTON (fg-3fg-ft-tp) Stewart 4-2-3-13 Miller 3-0-0-6 Beaugard 4-0-0-8 Jar Cumberland 9-1-5-24 Wolary 1-0-1-3 Creditt 2-0-1-5 Mansfield 3-1-1-8. TOTALS 26-4-11-67
FIELD GOALS: WR 23-52 (Johnson 7-11, Wright 6-12, Younger 5-10); W 26-64 (Cumberland 9-23, Beaugard 4-10, Stewart 4-10, Mansfield 3-7)
3 PT FIELD GOALS: WR-12-24 (Johnson 4-7, Younger 3-5, Manns 2-4, Wright 2-4); W 4-17 (Stewart 2-6)
FREE THROWS: WR 5-9; W 11-16 (Cumberland 5-7 Stewart 3-4)
REBOUNDS: WR-30 (Manns 8 Wright 6 Johnson 5); W-44 (Miller 11 Cumberland 6 Beaugard 5 Creditt 4 Stewart 4)
ASSISTS: WR-13 (Hairstong 5 Wright 4 Manns 3); W-12 (Beaugard 5 Cumberland 3 Stewart 2)
STEALS: WR-8 (Hairston 3 Taylor 2); W-8 (Beaugard 3 Cumberland 2)
BLOCKED SHOTS: WR-1; W-3 (Cumberland 1, Beaugard 1, Miller 1)
TURNOVERS: WR-15; W-14
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, or on Twitter @wnjsports.