Indians rally in fourth quarter to slip past Scots
For three quarters, Highland did nearly everything they had to do in order to topple Mount Gilead.
Unfortunately, games are four quarters long and that fourth period was a huge one for the Indians in what became a 60–51 road win on Thursday.
Trailing 40–31 entering the final eight minutes, Mount Gilead got 14 points from Nic Pomeroy on their way to a 29-point quarter that carried them to the win.
“In the fourth, we played with a lot of energy,” said Indian head coach Tom Cooper. “We extended our press to three-quarter court and that helped out in forcing turnovers and speeding the game up a bit.”
In the other locker room, Highland coach Mike Hoyng felt his team made too many mistakes down the stretch.
“Fundamental errors on our part and turnovers killed us,” he said. “We thought we had an opportunity, but our kids fell apart at the end when we needed them to stand up.”
Mount Gilead, who was playing without starting sophomore Xavier Harris (flu), go off to a strong start in the game, but watched the Scots take over during the middle quarters.
Five points from Payton Vanderkooi and four each from Logan Chapman and Chris Godfrey staked the Indians to a 15–12 advantage after the first quarter.
However, Highland opened the second quarter with a three-pointer by Kyle Minyo and a basket from Jett Swetland to take a 17–15 lead.
The teams would battle back and forth, with the Indians taking at 22–20 lead until the final minute of the half, when Highland’s Justin Deckling drained a three-pointer to give the Scots a one-point halftime advantage.
A big factor in Highland holding the lead was their ability to hit shots from behind the arc. The team hit five three-pointers over the opening 16 minutes. Deckling connected twice from long-range, while Minyo, Curtis Belcher and Swetland all did once.
“We know Highland kids can shoot the three,” said Cooper. “They run off screens and have a good motion offense.”
In the third quarter, the Scots opened with baskets from Swetland and Shawn Beltz, but a Godfrey three brough Mount Gilead within a 27–25 margin.
However, with the score 30–29 in favor of the Scots, the home team would finish the period with a 10–2 run.
Swetland scored four (including another three-pointer — his second of the period), while Colton Stanley, Deckling and Byron Belcher all added scores, as the Scots boosted their lead to nine.
“We talked about focus,” said Cooper. “We dug ourselves a hole and got to where we either execute in the fourth or we lose. Our seniors stepped up in the fourth and played really well.”
Ethan Harris opened the final period by hitting two of his three free throws after being fouled on a three-point attempt. This was followed by a Pomeroy three-pointer and an old-fashioned three-pointer from Harris. In barely over 90 seconds of action, the Indians had trimmed a nine-point deficit to one.
“We fell apart,” said Hoyng of his team’s fourth quarter performance. “We were up nine going in and gave up three straight three-point plays.”
Byron Belcher drained a shot to give the Scots a 42–39 lead, but the Indians responded with 10 straight. Pomeroy scored seven of those points, as Mount Gilead surged ahead by a 49–42 margin.
Highland rallied within a three-point margin thanks to a pair of Ryan Burt free throws followed by a Minyo basket, but would not be able to get any closer.
Mount Gilead fired back with baskets by Harris and Vanderkooi and a free throw by Pomeroy to go up by eight with 1:27 to play. Highland would not get closer than five points down the stretch, as the Indians were able to steal the road win.
“You have to be better than a 50 percent free throw shooting team at the varsity level, but we were 8-of-16,” he said. “We’re so close to getting over the hump, but we have to figure out how to get confidence in key situations. It was a case of little things separating us from being a winning basketball team.”
Swetland paced the Scots with a game-high 17 points, while Minyo added 10 and Deckling scored eight.
For Mount Gilead, Pomeroy led the team with 14 (all scored in the fourth quarter), while Ethan Harris finished with 13 and both Vanderkooi and Chapman added 11.
“When we don’t have Xavier Harris, it changes us, but we played flat for a lot of the game,” said Cooper. “In the fourth, I thought we were a lot more patient and executed the offense a lot better. The MOAC is as good this year as it’s been in a long time. If you don’t bring it, you’ll lose.”