By Josh Brown
PLEASANT HILL — With both Miami East and Newton struggling at their lowest points of the season, something had to give.
That something turned out to be the Vikings’ recent shooting woes.
Miami East had its best night from long range on the season Tuesday night, hitting seven first-half 3-pointers and going on two separate 15-0 runs to claim a 24-point lead at the break, and the Vikings coasted from there to a 63-27 victory at Newton in Cross County Conference play.
And for the Vikings (8-11, 4-6 CCC), which had lost seven straight coming in, the shooting performance couldn’t have come soon enough.
“It feels great to get a win after a long, tough stretch,” Miami East coach Allen Mack said. “The kids just played great basketball on both ends of the court in that first half, and it led to an unbelievable shooting performance with our best half of the season. We shot 55 percent from the field and 77 percent from 3 in the first half. We just moved the ball really well with 14 assists in the game.
“I was really proud of our guys and how we played. After a losing stretch, sometimes it can wear on you. But the kids continue to fight hard and really played well on both ends.”
For Newton (4-15, 1-9 CCC), it was the seventh consecutive loss — but only the third straight double-digit loss, as the the Indians had been competitive in most of their games until this most recent stretch.
“We’ve been struggling the last two or three games here,” Newton coach Gavin Spitler said. “Until the last three games, we’ve been within a couple possessions in the fourth quarter — a rebound didn’t go our way or we didn’t get a key defensive stop. But the last few games, we’ve gotten away from what we’ve done well, and we need to get back to that in these last few games of the season and get going in the right direction heading into the tournament.
“The boys have the ability. They just have to believe in themselves.”
Newton held the lead early at 7-6 after a reverse layup by Kleyson Wehrley — but that’s when the Vikings got hot. Austin Kearns hit a bucket inside and Dylan Hahn hit his third 3-pointer of the first quarter, then Parker Heim hit a 3 and a putback in transition to make it 16-7 East and force a Newton timeout with 2:23 left in the first quarter. But a putback by Kearns and another 3 by Heim — the Vikings’ fifth of the first quarter — closed out the first 15-0 run and gave East a 21-7 lead after one.
Treg Jackson and Wehrley both hit 3s for Newton early in the second to cut the gap to 23-13, but that would be as close as the Indians got as the Vikings scored another 15 straight points to go up 38-13 before a Ryan Mollette 3 snapped that run. The damage was done, though, and the Vikings led 40-16 at halftime.
Hahn and Heim both hit three 3s in the game, and Dalton Taynor came off the bench to hit three more 3s as the Vikings went 7 for 9 from long range in the first half and 10 for 22 (45 percent) for the game.
“We did cool down a bit in the second half, but we got great outside shooting from our three guards, Dylan, Parker and Dalton,” Mack said. “Heim was 3 for 4, Taynor was 3 for 5 and Hahn was 3 for 4, so combined they were 9 of 13. We came in shooting 24 percent as a team, so to get that kind of offensive ball movement and shooting really opened things up for us tonight.”
“That was part them hitting shots and part us not getting good closeouts,” Spitler said. “We didn’t play really well at all tonight, but defensively especially.”
The Viking defense also forced 18 turnovers in the game, while Miami East only committed eight itself. Even though they didn’t continue torching the nets, the Vikings did continue their offensive efficiency in the third quarter, building a 30-pint lead heading into the fourth at 53-23. From there, the Vikings maintained control and outscored the Indians 10-4 in the fourth to finish things off.
Hahn, Heim and Taynor each scored 11 points to lead all scorers for East. Austin Rutledge added nine points and eight rebounds and Kearns had six points and six rebounds as the Vikings beat the Indians on the glass 35-21. Justin Brown, Will Hudson and Brendon Bertsch each scored four points and Jack Runner added one point.
Jackson led Newton with nine points and six rebounds, Mollette scored eight points, Wehrley had five points, Nash Lavy scored three and Charlie Walker had two.
“It was just a really solid job. I was really pleased,” Mack said. “Hopefully this will help fuel a strong finish to the season.”
Both teams are back in action Friday, with Miami East hosting Mississinawa Valley for Senior Night and Newton traveling to Covington.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.