By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
CASSTOWN — After the opening possession — one that lasted almost two minutes without a shot — Miami East boys basketball coach Allen Mack knew what kind of game it would be.
And even though his Vikings were able to build a six-point lead in the third, all it took was one run to get away from them.
“We had a tough stretch there at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth, and it just got away from us,” Miami East coach Allen Mack said. “West Liberty made a lot of really good plays during that stretch, and it was just a really rough stretch in a defensive game.”
After Miami East took a 25-19 lead late in the third — the biggest advantage enjoyed by either team to that point — West Liberty-Salem went on a 16-0 run that lasted midway through the fourth quarter and the Vikings never recovered in a 40-33 loss in their home opener Saturday at Miami East High School.
The Tigers (1-0) won the opening tip and passed the ball around the perimeter until Eli McGill finally put up a shot, scoring on a back-door layup with 6:10 left in the opening quarter to begin the game. And by the end of the first, only 10 total shots had gone up between both teams, with West Liberty-Salem claiming a 6-2 lead after the first eight minutes.
“They kind of set the tone early with that first possession, scoring after one minute and 50 seconds,” Mack said. “We broke down at the end of that one and they got a layup, and that pretty much set the tone — it was going to be a defensive game.”
Miami East (0-2) hung around and slowly crept out in front in the second quarter, though, forcing six Tiger turnovers during the quarter and taking an 11-10 lead after a Parker Heim steal led to a fast-break finish by Will Hudson with two minutes to play in the half. The Vikings led 12-10 at the break and, after the Tigers briefly grabbed the lead midway through the third, began to put some distance between them. Holding a 20-19 lead, Brendon Bertsch — who scored 25 points the night before — drove in for a layup and Heim found Hudson open for a 3 to give the Vikings a 25-19 lead with 1:45 left in the third.
Hudson finished with nine points and a game-high 15 rebounds for East, but no other Viking had more than two rebounds as the Tigers outrebounded them 29-21 on the night.
“Will did a good job on the glass for us, but it’s going to be tough to win when you don’t have a single double-digit scorer,” Mack said. “We just left a lot of opportunities out there tonight. Unfortunately, it was not our night, definitely on the offensive end.”
West Liberty-Salem, though, battled back.
A pair of buckets to close the third made the score 25-23 East entering the final quarter, and Nick Burden tied the score to open the fourth with a quick jumper. After a steal, West Liberty-Salem missed a pair of free throws, only to get an offensive rebound and kick it out to Matthew Loffing for a 3-pointer and the foul, and Loffing converted the free throw to give the Tigers a 29-25 lead and leave the Vikings stunned.
From there, the Tigers hit three more buckets in transition in rapid succession to take a 35-25 lead before a 3 by Bertsch finally got the Vikings back on the board with 4:35 left in the game — but with all of the transition layup attempts that the Vikings had missed during the 16-0 run, the damage had already been done.
“They had a big spurt of offense there in between the third and fourth quarters, and we just made too many mistakes. They got the next four to end the third quarter, and we just went a long stretch without being able to score,” Mack said. “Also, they executed well against our defense during that stretch.”
After Hudson, Bertsch finished with eight points for East, Heim added five points, Sam Zapadka scored four points, Josh Whitt had three points and Aaron Lawrence and Wes Sutherly both had two.
Burden led all scorers with 17 for West Liberty-Salem, with 15 of those coming in the second half. Loffing added 14 points and seven rebounds, McGill had six points and six rebounds and Jack Eggleston had three points.
“We’re disappointed in our start here, but we’re going to work real hard in this upcoming week and hope to bounce back with a good weekend,” Mack said.
Things don’t get any easier, though — Miami East takes on Ethan Conley and a tough Franklin Monroe team in its Cross County Conference opener on Friday.
Josh Brown is the Sports Editor of the Troy Daily News. Contact him at email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.