MERCERVILLE, Ohio — The Tornadoes’ defense was the key.
Southern’s offense then took the wheel after that.
Simply put, the Tornadoes stormed into “MercerVegas” on Friday night — and rolled the host South Gallia Rebels 65-43 in a Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division boys basketball tilt.
Southern never trailed, stymied South Gallia to a mere three points in the opening quarter, and kept pulling away until it led 64-37 with only a minute and 38 seconds remaining.
The Tornadoes staked a 41-15 advantage at the 3:35 mark of the third period, then withstood a 13-2 Rebel run over the next 3:45 — with nine unanswered points in an early minute-and-a-half in the fourth frame.
The closest the Rebels got was a 2-2 tie only a minute and 20 seconds in, on a Josh Henry basket, as their only other first-period point was a Caleb Henry free throw with 1:54 remaining.
Southern gained the lead on back-to-back three-pointers by Blake Johnson and Tylar Blevins to make it 8-2, and the Tornadoes never let the lead dip below five the rest of the way.
In fact, after leading 12-3 at the first quarter’s end, the Tornadoes —thanks to 10 unanswered points in a span of two minutes and three seconds —led 27-9 with 52 seconds to play in the opening half.
Southern held a double-digit advantage for the contest’s final 18 minutes and 40 seconds.
With the win, the Purple and Gold raised its record to 8-9 — and 7-5 in the TVC-Hocking.
And, the secret behind Southern’s success on Friday night was its defense.
The young Rebels had been improving all year, but have been known to struggle offensively this season.
“We felt like this would be a tough game, because South Gallia has been playing better. The key was how we played defensively, especially in that first half,” said Southern coach Jeff Caldwell. “We were making them shoot some tough shots and only giving them one shot. We did a nice job on defensive rebounding as well. We were having trouble scoring ourselves in the first half, so we needed to play good defense at that time.”
With the defense doing the job, the Tornado offense heated up behind Blevins and Crenson Rogers.
Both players posted nine total field goals, as Blevins bagged a game-high 22 points — while Rogers recorded 19.
Blevins bucketed seven two-pointers and two of the Tornadoes’ three threes, as Southern amassed 27 field goals —compared to only 16 for South Gallia.
Blevins also made 2-of-3 free throws, as his old-fashioned three-point play pushed the margin to 61-36.
“We’ve been working hard on our defense. Sometimes we struggle to score the ball at times, but tonight our defense keyed our offense,” said Caldwell. “We started hitting some shots and did a nice job of getting the ball inside to Crenson (Rogers). He finished well, and Tylar Blevins played a real nice game for us. Hopefully, we can build on this and continue to get better every game.”
All of the Tornadoes played on Friday, and only three did not reach the scoring column.
Dylan Smith and Trey McNickle netted five points apiece, followed by four apiece from Weston Thorla and Trey Pickens.
Johnson’s triple, Kody Greene’s basket, and Alex VanMeter’s fourth-quarter free throw rounded out the Southern scoring.
Caleb Henry, on four field goals and 5-of-12 free throws, paced the Rebels with 13 points.
Josh Henry, on four field goals and 2-of-2 freebies, added 11.
Eli Ellis scored seven points —on a pair of twos and a fourth-quarter trey.
Austin Stapleton sank a pair of trifectas for six points, as Josh Henry canned the club’s other three — with all four of South Gallia three-balls coming in the final stanza.
Curtis Haner had a pair of second-quarter buckets, and Joey Woodall — with a third-period field goal — rounded out the Rebels.
South Gallia dipped to 3-14 — and 2-10 in the TVC-Hocking.
The Rebels returned home, and returned to non-league action on Saturday night, against Symmes Valley.
The Tornadoes return home, and return to TVC-Hocking Division action, on Tuesday night against Federal Hocking.
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106