By Luke Severt
For the Miami Valley Today
PLEASANT HILL — As the time on the clock ran out, the buzzer sounded and the perimeter of the backboard glowed to signify the end of the quarter, Newton senior guard Ryan Mollette’s shot was still arcing through the air.
Time seemed to slow as he watched his 3-point attempt fall blissfully through the net. He then took off towards his bench in elation, and pumped his fist to the deafening roar of the home crowd. With Mollette’s shot, the Indians (1-1) had built a 21-5 lead after one quarter en route to a 57-42 victory over Milton-Union (2-1) at Newton High School on Saturday night.
“It’s huge to come out and get a good start,” Newton head coach Gavin Spitler said. “You build that confidence, and that’s the biggest thing these guys need. They have the ability, and if they believe they can win that’s the biggest thing. If we can get them to believe every night — doesn’t matter who we play — we can win, that’s what we’re trying to get around here.”
Newton led by a mere three points over halfway through the first quarter with the score at 8-5. However, the Indians scored the next 13 points to close out the quarter to secure a lead that proved to be insurmountable.
The Indians scored 15 of their 21 first-quarter points on 3-pointers, as their sharp-shooting backcourt duo of Mollette and fellow senior Chet Jamison couldn’t seem to miss. The two would combine for 35 of Newton’s 57 points on the night, and do so on seven 3-point shots.
Milton-Union tried to answer with 3-point shooting of its own, but went as cold as the brisk December air outside of the gymnasium. The Bulldogs capitalized on only one of their first eight shots from 3-point range and finished the night with a field goal percentage of just 26 percent.
“We missed a lot of shots that we have to make,” Berner said. “We were getting looks, we just have to knock them down.”
Newton carried its momentum from the first quarter into the second, as the Indians continued to dominate and outscored Milton-Union 19-14 in an offense-heavy second quarter that ended with a 40-19 Newton lead.
“The biggest key was that at the offensive end, we executed,” Spitler said. “We had good shot selection in the first half. At the defensive end we were rotating well, the zone worked well for us tonight. We contested on their shots, and had good rebounding as well.”
Despite a less-than-ideal first half, the Bulldogs were able to facilitate a bit of a comeback after the halftime break. Milton-Union scored 9 points to Newton’s 6 in a defensive third quarter.
In the final quarter, the Bulldogs continued to wither down the Newton lead, but found themselves with too great a deficit with too little time.
“I was pleased with our effort,” Milton-Union coach Rusty Berner said about the slight comeback. “Very pleased with our effort defensively in the second half, we just have to put the ball in the hole.”
With under two minutes left, a Bulldog bucket shrank the Newton lead to 11, and the fate of the Indians fell at the free throw line, as Milton-Union was forced to foul.
Much to Spitler’s delight, the Indians capitalized on 9 of 10 free throw shooting to close out the game and secure their first victory of the young season.
“I’m pleased with how we came out and played in the first half,” Spitler said. “Tonight, we got out ahead early. I wasn’t happy with how we finished, but I think them making it close at the end gave us a little experience in a close game. I think it felt like it was closer than it really was, and we had to make some free throws, so that helped.”
Jamison led the Indians with 20 points, 16 of which came in the first half. He has been scoring efficiently so far this season, as he dropped 14 points in Newton’s loss to Bethel on Friday.
“Chet’s had two good games this weekend,” Spitler said. “He played well Friday, didn’t shoot as well Friday but shot well tonight in the first half. He’s key to our offense, because if he’s hitting they rotate to him, and it opens up for everyone else.”
Mollette contributed 15 of his own, followed by Kleyson Wehrley, who had 9. Charlie Walker added four, Andrew Whittaker finished with 3, and James Whittaker and Alex Koon had a bucket each.
The Bulldogs’ leading scorer on the year, Aaran Stone, scored a team-best 10 points and eight rebounds. He was matched by Nathan Brumbaugh, who had 10. Sam Case added 7 points off the bench, Caleb Wintrow contributed 5, William Morris and A.J. Lovin each scored 4, and Eli Case had 2.
Milton-Union will have only a couple days off before travelling to conference-rival Carlisle on Tuesday, Dec. 11.
“I think we build off the positives that we ended the game with, but the reality is that win, lose or draw this game, we’re going to get back to work the same, no matter what, on Monday,” Berner said. “We’re still building long-term, we have a tough road game against Carlisle on Tuesday, and whether we won this game or lost this game we have a quick turnaround to get focused.”
Newton’s next matchup will be at Ansonia on Friday, as the Indians and the Tigers will face off in Cross Country Conference play.
Only two games in and a lengthy season ahead, Spitler knows his team still has lots of work to do. However, he couldn’t help but smile while discussing the electricity of the home crowd on Saturday, and the feeling of victory.
“The more the merrier. We’re trying to build something here, and obviously more people come when you get Ws,” Spitler said. “That’s what we’re looking for, to build a crowd, and to build a base and a winning tradition here. It’s going to take some work, but these boys are working hard, and they’re going to get better every night because they work so hard.”