By Mike Blatt
It was the kind of game one might expect from an early season backyard brawl. With visiting Taylor and homestanding Tri-Central both looking for their first win, intensity was high.
After the teams combined for 42 fouls and 35 turnovers, Tri-Central’s boys basketball team emerged victorious with a hard-fought 57-46 win thanks to a clutch performance by junior Garrett Dick. Dick finished with 24 points on the night to lead all scorers as he nailed 9 of 11 free throws in the final stanza to help the Trojans improve to 1-2 on the young season. The Titans fell to 0-2.
Tri-Central coach Kyle Zahn had nothing but praise for his hot shooting guard.
“Garrett was huge for us,” he said. “We had been waiting for him to have a breakout game. We really didn’t think in the first two games that he had showed what he was capable of. The sky’s the limit for this kid.”
Despite Dick’s heroics, the game was very much in doubt until late in the fourth quarter, and both teams scrapped hard from opening tip to final buzzer.
Taylor coach Andy Lewman summed it up nicely.
“I felt like both teams did a really good job defensively trying to take away things that each other wanted to do,” he said. “It’s a competitive thing. The two schools are a few miles apart. We played over the summer, and it was just as competitive a game then. We knew what we were coming into in respect to the competitiveness, the defensive intensity, and just the desire to play the game. I think that Tri-Central did a really good job of taking away some of the stuff we wanted to do.”
At the outset, both teams were effective offensively, with the Trojans ahead 17-13 at the first stop. But both teams tightened the screws defensively in the second and third periods. TC managed just nine and eight points in the middle stanzas while the Titans scored just six and eight. The pace picked up the final quarter, and Taylor, trailing 34-27, sliced the margin to 34-32 with 5:21 to play when Titan senior Nathan Gotshall followed his 3-pointer with a pair of made free throws.
But Taylor would get no closer. A key sequence occurred with about two minutes to play. With the Trojans leading 43-38, TC freshman Dillon Smith, who finished with nine points, went to the line. He hit the first of two, missed the second, but teammate Seth Blunck grabbed the rebound. After a timeout, Dick was fouled and also made one of two. Again, Blunck kept the ball alive and it went out of bounds to TC. Dick was fouled again, and this time he made both charity shots. By the time the dust had cleared, the Trojans had their largest lead of the night at 47-38 and just 1:35 showed on the clock. Taylor never recovered.
Zahn was pleased with the win and his team’s defense.
“It was a battle from the beginning,” he said. “We got off to a quick start offensively, scoring 17 points, and then kind of stalled offensively. But our defense was the constant. Our defense was able to force them into a lot of turnovers and was able to get a lot of stops. I think [on] all their points we made them shoot over us, and we didn’t give them any second chances on the offensive boards. Our defense put us in a position where the offense started going again, and we could pull away with it.”
In addition to Dick’s 24-point effort, Trojan senior Clay Smith had a strong game and drew kudos from his coach.
“We had him for six defensive boards and three offensive, so nine total,” said Zahn. “And he ended with 12 points, so he was just one rebound away from that double-double. He was absolutely huge for us. He’s not always the biggest guy; he’s not always the strongest guy. But he’s going to outwork you and get position. He’s a very smart player.”
Taylor, paced by Gotshall’s 12 points and nine boards, also got eight points apiece from Calvin Wheeler, Logan Barnes, and Challen Hodson. The Titans will try to break into the win column tonight as they travel to Oak Hill.