MERCERVILLE, Ohio — Unfortunately for the Rebels, a Howie-Caldwell coached club got defensive on Saturday night.
As a result, it’s the Trimble Tomcats — and for now not South Gallia — tied atop the top-heavy Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division.
By limiting the Rebels to only 10 points apiece in each of the opening three quarters, the Tomcats took an early lead and never looked back in defeating host South Gallia 61-51 in a boys basketball makeup matchup.
Aside from their early 2-0 and 4-2 leads, along with the game’s only ties at 2-2 and 4-4, the Rebels fell further behind and eventually had to play catch-up against the highly-touted Tomcats.
Trimble led for all but the opening two minutes and four seconds, as the Rebels fell behind by as much as 17 points three times in the final 3:05 of the third quarter.
The Rebels rallied with a 21-point fourth-quarter outburst, and sliced the deficit down to 50-40 with 5:50 remaining.
However, by being outscored 18-10 in both the first and third quarters, those 17-point holes were simply too much for the Rebels to dig out of.
Now, South Gallia will have to dig itself out from a one-game deficit in the TVC-Hocking.
Trimble, at 16-3 overall, took a full-game lead (12-2 TVC-Hocking) over the Rebels (11-3 TVC-Hocking) for the league lead.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game that I’ve coached or that we’ve played for a long time. But I do know that we’re going back to Glouster with a big win,” said Caldwell. “South Gallia is very difficult to play against because they’ve went to that 1-3-1 (zone).”
Waterford remains at 11-2 in the division, as South Gallia — in order to earn at least a share of the TVC-Hocking championship — needs to defeat Wahama on Tuesday night and win at Trimble on Friday night.
Plus, the Rebels — which fell to 15-4 — now need Waterford to lose at least once in their final three league games.
For the Tomcats, and their legendary coach Caldwell, Saturday’s success simply can be attributed to their defense.
Trimble changed its defenses throughout, and frustrated the Rebels into turnovers and many missed yet contested shots.
“Offense looks pretty and everything, but it’s defense that wins big games like this one. We went from a man-to-man press to a zone press and switched some things up,” said Caldwell. “I think it confused them (Rebels) especially, when (Joseph) Ehman was out of the game. He’s a nice player and when he got in foul trouble, that was a big key.”
Indeed, Joseph Ehman’s on-court absence impacted the Rebels’ offense.
Ehman, averaging 24 points per game entering Saturday night, only amounted a three-point goal from the top of the key with 2:37 left in the opening quarter.
He picked up his second foul only four minutes and 14 seconds in — and his critical third only 51 seconds into the second quarter after sitting for the final 3:46 of the first.
In the third frame, however, Ehman picked up fouls four and five with 5:26 remaining.
He was whistled for a technical foul, which also counts as a personal foul, and thus had fouled out with over 13 minutes still to play.
“Without Joseph (Ehman) in there, it’s hard for us to score. When you lose a 24-points per game player, it’s going to impact how you play,” said SGHS head coach Larry Howell.
Indeed it did, as the Rebels combined for only 11 of their 20 total field goals over the first three periods.
Without Ehman in the lineup, the turnovers mounted, while it also affected South Gallia around the basket defensively.
“We put three things on the (locker-room) board before the game: value the basketball, play good defense and rebound. We gave up 10 offensive rebounds in the first half and had 13 turnovers (in the first half),” said Howell. “When you give up offense rebounds and turn the ball over, you’re not going to beat a good championship-caliber team like Trimble. We really emphasized, after we broke their initial pressure, we needed to be aggressive and finish. But we missed some makable shots and gave up easy shots to them on offensive rebounds.”
The Tomcats’ trio of Justice Jenkins, Randy Hixon and Bryce Guthrie gave them a solid 1-2-3 inside-outside punch.
Jenkins, on 11 field goals and 2-of-4 free throws, poured in 24 points to pace all scorers.
Hixon hit all five of the Tomcats’ three-point goals, and tacked on 2-of-2 third-quarter free throws towards 19 points.
Guthrie, on five field goals and a pair of first-quarter free throws, garnered 12.
“We needed to guard Hixon, and we had to keep Jenkins and Guthrie off the offensive glass,” said Howell. “But they did all three. We didn’t do a good job of finding Hixon, and we didn’t do a good job of finishing defensive possessions by boxing Jenkins and Guthrie out.”
Tyler Sayre scored four points on two field goals, while Cody Jones rounded out the Tomcats with a third-quarter bucket.
The Tomcats took the lead for good at 7-4 on an old-fashioned three-point play by Jenkins — the highlight of 10 unanswered markers, in which South Gallia went three minutes and 48 seconds without a point.
That 12-4 deficit stayed at 18-10 after the first quarter, and 29-20 at halftime, as the Rebels got no closer than four points after falling behind 10-4.
With Trimble leading 36-26 with 4:50 remaining in the third, it finished the canto on an 11-4 run, including seven straight in only a minute and 45 seconds.
The Tomcats’ largest lead swelled to 17 three times — at 43-26, 45-28 and 47-30.
South Gallia got going in the fourth quarter by beginning to turn the Tomcats over, but it wasn’t until the final 15 seconds that the Rebels finally got to within single digits (60-51).
“We could have quit when we got down 17. But I was really excited and impressed with the way Caleb Henry played defensively. He really came in and picked us up with his energy. And he’s always done that,” said Howell. “He’s more mature than a freshman. He comes in, brings energy and he’s all about the team.”
Landon Hutchinson had six field goals for 12 points to pace the Rebels, while Darren Drenner dropped in 11 on five field goals and a first-quarter free throw.
Dominick Johnson scored eight on two field goals and 4-of-4 foul shots, while Kane Hutchinson had seven, including the squad’s other trey.
Caleb Henry had six fourth-quarter points on two field goals and 2-of-4 freebies, while Corey Rhodes registered two field goals for four points.
Howell said Saturday night’s setback is a learning lesson, but also emphasized that the Rebels can quickly rebound and still stake their claim to the TVC-Hocking title.
The Rebels return home, and return to TVC-Hocking action, on Tuesday night against Wahama for Senior Night.
“You can’t play like we did tonight and beat teams like Trimble,” said Howell. “We’ve got to learn from it and hopefully next week, we can go up there (Trimble) and avenge this loss and cheer for the opponents playing Waterford. Hopefully, we can still win this thing (TVC-Hocking Division championship).”
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106