One second the West Holmes Knights were finding a groove and forging a five-point lead late into the second quarter. In seemingly what was the next breath, the lead was long, long gone.
It took the Wooster Generals 11 minutes of helter-skelter pressure over the final three minutes of the second quarter and the entirety of the third quarter to blow open a tight game and produce an 80-46 romp over the Knights at The Dungeon in West Holmes on Friday, Jan. 4 in boys varsity basketball.
After a tight first quarter that saw the Generals eke out a 17-12 lead led by Ezra McKee, West Holmes somehow found the answer to Wooster’s full-court pressure and started carving into the lead. Jacob Hammond scored an and-one to start the period, and after a missed dunk by McKee sent the home West Holmes crowd into a frenzy, Bubba Hay dropped in a 3-pointer from the corner to give the Knights an 18-17 lead. Reese Mitchell momentarily gave Wooster the advantage on a put-back, and after Peyton McKinney and Micha McKee traded scores, West Holmes got triples from Hay and Josh Shrock to lift the Knights to a 26-21 lead.
“I was ecstatic, really,” West Holmes head coach Jordan Widder said of the impressive Knights’ effort throughout the first half. “We have been practicing really hard, and we have looked like that in practice, so I thought, ‘Here we go,’ because it represents what I wanted to look like. We were taking care of the ball and making shots, and everything was good.”
Then the walls caved in for West Holmes.
That was when the Generals went into hyper-drive on defense, creating havoc across the full 94 feet of hardwood to create some easy lay-ups that led to a 9-0 run to end the half, Micah McKee scoring four of those points, Lonnie Harper adding four more and the final two on a nice, piercing drive down the lane to beat the buzzer.
With Wooster leading by just four, the third quarter would be the difference-maker, and again Wooster’s frenetic pressure made the big impact as it forced the Knights into countless turnovers.
“They came out, and we had two turnovers. They score four points, and from there it deflated us,” Widder said. “I’m not going to say it is a sign of our youth anymore because we have experience now. It is something we have to get over. We have proven we can be dangerous if we play the right way, but we have to eliminate those valleys we have.”
Leading 34-28 after Shane Jones drove the lane for West Holmes, Wooster’s pressure led to a series of lay-ups and free throws that paved the way for a 10-0 run. During that run Ezra McKee, Jette Morgan and Dylan Bagley led the way as the Knights struggled mightily to get the ball past half-court. Jones finally hit two free throws, but it did little to tame the now frenzied Generals, who went on a 20-1 run to put this contest in the bag. It would be Ezra McKee leading the way, adding six points to the Wooster side of the scoreboard as well as a couple of steals. Harper, Dagley and Reece Mitchell also were busy making life difficult on the Knights, and Wooster had itself a 36-8 quarter, led by Ezra McKee’s 13-point effort.
Up 32 to begin the fourth period, Wooster fell back into a half-court defensive set, and both coaches implemented plenty of bench players throughout the final period. Morgan and Tyler Pettorini would each score four for the Generals while Hammond would score four and McKinney and Noah Proper would both tally three in the period for West Holmes.
The big key for the game was Wooster’s pressure, which saw the Generals force the Knights into a whopping 38 turnovers on the evening.
“You can’t win many games with that number,” Widder said of the turnovers. “It was a huge swing of momentum coming out of the half. I was really proud of our effort. I thought we took a huge step in the right direction in the first half and then steps backward in the second half.”
Snowbarger said having his young team learn to play with pace and poise together is something they continue to work on figuring out as the season progresses.
“We played better in the third quarter, but we are a young group, and we have to start giving that kind of effort for 32 minutes,” Snowbarger said. “We have to make better decisions in transition. To make the next step and become the team we want to be, we have to get better at converting those turnovers into points and making better decisions. We can play fast, but we have to play under control. There is a fine line there. Right now we are fast but out of control, but we’ll get better. We’ve got a number of kids out there who don’t have a lot of varsity experience.”
Now at 3-4 and 2-1 in the Ohio Cardinal Conference, Snowbarger said his team’s early season struggles have been due to some very difficult competition. He noted they have faced four one-loss teams thus far.
“It’s been brutal in December, but that is what you have to do to become a better team,” Snowbarger said. “I’d rather play those teams and learn on the job than play other teams and create bad habits.”
Widder said while they have seen a number of athletes who present the same type of quickness and speed and aggressiveness exhibited by the Generals, it hasn’t been an entire team.
“You don’t see that kind of speed top to bottom like they have,” Widder said of Wooster. “Athletically speaking, they don’t have deficiencies, so there’s nowhere to hide.”
While West Holmes didn’t have a lot of scoring, they saw a lot of guys do a little. Hay and Hammond both notched nine points to lead the way while McKinney and Jacob Goudy each scored five, Grant Baker added four, and Jones and Proper each tacked on three. Wooster was paced with a game-high 21 points from Ezra McKee while Harper added 14, Morgan and Dagley each scored 10, Mitchell and Micah McKee added seven, Kristian Scalf scored six, and Pettorini added four.