ATHENS — For the second straight game, the Lynchburg-Clay Mustangs came out in the second half and dominated their opponents.
On Saturday night in a Div. III Southeast District championship game at Ohio University’s Convocation Center, the Mustangs turned a 12-point halftime deficit around with a dominant second half en route to a 73-62 win over Fairland.
Lynchburg (23-2) will play Chesapeake (19-6) 6:15 p.m. Wednesday at the Convocation Center in a Div. III Athens Regional semifinal game.
“We’re going to be playing a quality team,” said Lynchburg-Clay head coach Matt Carson. “We’re going to have to be ready to play.”
As the game started Saturday, it seemed like the Dragons had the upper hand as they mounted a 23-16 lead over Lynchburg. In the second quarter, Lynchburg’s saving grace was Christian Inman, who scored 12 of the Mustangs’s 16 points in the second to keep the game close.
Still, Fairland led by 12 going into the half 44-32 in a game where the score could have been much worse.
“We put ourselves in a bad position there in the first half,” Carson said after the game on Saturday. “I thought we outplayed them in the second quarter. I told [the guys] at halftime, three possessions here or there and then we lose a shooter, next thing you know, it goes from being a two- or four-point game to an 11-point game. If it wasn’t for Christian Inman, and everyone on the team concurred, we’re down a lot more at halftime.”
In the third quarter, a whole new Lynchburg team came to play. The Mustangs started the quarter on a 9-0 run with baskets from Zach Blankenship, two from River Mullins, and a three from Joe Giordano. This brought them back to within three points with 6:20 to go in the third.
Fairland finally moved the Convo scoreboard lights and were able to stay just ahead of the Mustangs, 56-52.
“I thought, OK, we’re where we want to be,” Carson said.
That quickly changed, though, as Fairland pushed the difference back to eight. Fairland’s big man Kollin VanHorn increased the Fairland lead to 60-52 early in the period and all the momentum the Mustangs built seemed to vanish.
Giordano broke the string with a basket, 60-54, but VanHorn responded, 62-54, with 6:23 to play. That would, however, be the final points of the night for Fairland.
Giordano started a 19-0 run with a three-pointer and from there the Mustangs were unstoppable.
“After that we just executed and locked it down,” said Carson. “The kids stepped up and took charges, made plays. I mean what else can you say about this group. They’ve been digging down all year. We’ve battled adversity. We’ve played in three overtime games, one of them going into a fourth overtime. It’s just a great feeling and I’m so happy for these kids.
“This is a good basketball team we just beat. I hope people realize that. I heard about them all week and they lived up to their billing. I think the thing that people counted out all week, not our community, not us and the kids in the locker room, but the some of the people who wanted to pick this game as far as who was going to win, there’s one thing you can’t work out on paper and that’s heart. These kids wanted this. From the time we came down here last Sunday to today, they wanted this. They wanted this since last year and they support each other and I’m just extremely proud of them.”
March 5, 2016
@Ohio U. Convocation Center
Lynchburg-Clay 73 Fairfield 62
(73) LYNCHBURG-CLAY (fg-3fg-ft-tp) Pierson 8-0-7/8-23; Giordano 8-3-2/5-21; Inman 5-2-0/2-12; McLaughlin 2-1-2/2-7; Mullins 2-0-2/2-6; Blankenship 1-0-2/4-4. TOTALS 26-6015/23-73.
(62) FAIRLAND (fg-3fg-ft-tp) VanHorn 8-0-1/2-17; Short 5-3-2/4-15; Howell 4-1-1/2-10; Thomas 3-1-0-7; Staten 2-0-2/4-6; Cunningham 2-0-0-4; James 1-1-0-3. TOTALS 25-6-6/12-62
Reach Robert Stegbauer at 937-393-3456 ext. 1679 or on Twitter @RStegbauer.