Great teams – or in this case, programs – don’t lose three straight games. And dating all the way back to December 2010, neither have the Hartville Eagles.
Bouncing back from consecutive losses at last week’s Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament, Hartville handed Class 3 No. 2-ranked Licking its first loss of the season Tuesday night.
Jace Keith and Deric Jones combined for 39 points and the Eagles made overcame seven missed free throws in the fourth quarter to prevail, 58-54, in front of a capacity crowd of nearly 2,000 estimated fans.
Hartville saw its 29-game winning streak end last week, with losses to Class 5 Springfield schools Glendale and Parkview.
“I said to our guys, ‘Great teams don’t lose three (games) in a row,” said Eagles coach Brett Reed. “I firmly believe that. Our schedule, it tends to be pretty tough and there are chances for us to lose three in a row a lot. However, we’ve got to come ready to go every single night and we did just enough to get it done.”
The game was physical from start to finish, with plenty of hard fouls, bumps and floor burns traded by the two teams. All worth it, Jones said.
“If you want to win games, big games like this one, you have to match the physicality and adapt to the physicality,” he said. “We did what we hand to do to win this game.
“I’ve got a few bumps and bruises but to win a game like this, you have to go through some of that stuff. “I’m OK with it as long as we get the ‘W.’”
Nathan Wilson scored 28 points in the loss for Licking (12-1 overall), including 16 in the fourth quarter.
He almost single-handedly sparked Licking’s comeback, after the Wildcats trailed 37-27 going into the fourth. Wilson scored Licking’s final 11 points of the game, including a twisting, double-pump 3-pointer with 17 seconds left that cut Hartville’s lead to 55-54.
“He’s an amazing player,” Jones said. “I’ve never seen anyone be able to put in shots like that at the end of the game. That’s just as clutch as you can get and there’s nothing you can do about it. We just have to go make our free throws on the other end and hope we can keep the lead up to four (points).”
Hartville answered with two free throws with 12.8 seconds remaining, extending its lead to 57-54. The Eagles fouled on Licking’s ensuing possession to prevent a potential game-tying 3-pointer.
The strategy worked as Licking missed a pair of free throws with 6.4 seconds left on the clock. Hartville grabbed the rebounded and added one more free throw to clinch the victory.
It was Hartville’s fifth straight win over Licking dating back to the 2012-13 season, although its closest margin of victory in a few years. Hartville beat Licking by 29 last season and by 24 two years ago.
“This is something we can refer back to when we get in another game like this, against a team of this caliber,” said Licking coach Ben Glasgow. “We can refer back to the mistakes we made and to the good things we did. We realize, late in the game, we’re able to do some things that maybe we weren’t able to do early. We were reluctant to go to the basket early in the game. Late in the game, we got some things done against a high-caliber team.”
“Win or lose, this was a good game for us. We needed it.”
Licking, aided by Hartville’s fourth-quarter free throw struggles, quickly cut into the Eagles’ lead in the fourth quarter.
Wilson’s three-point play brought Licking within 40-36 at the 5:45 mark. Later, Clabe Sullins drained a corner 3-pointer to bring Licking even, 43-all.
The Wildcats went ahead 44-43 on a free throw from Wilson, but Hartville answered in true championship form.
The Eagles scored on their next three possessions – with baskets from Jaden Keith, Ward and Jones, respectively – to go in front for good, 50-46.
Hartville (11-2 overall, Class 2 No. 1 ranked) finished 20-for-29 at the free throw line, including 14-for-21 in the fourth quarter.
Coming into Tuesday’s game, Hartville was trying to avoid its third straight loss, something it hadn’t done since losing three straight December games amid a 6-17 overall season in 2010-11.
“I think our kids do a great job of battling through adversity,” Reed said. “These kids are champions. They’re winners. They never cease to amaze me. Game gets close, things don’t go our way, they find a way to battle back; fight, scratch and claw. I’ll miss these seniors. This is a good group. They’ve got a bright future in them.”
While Licking briefly took the lead late at 44-43, Glasgow said it was too early to run clock against Hartville’s defensive-minded guards.
The real area that plagued the Wildcats was the free throw line, where Licking made only 11 of 22 attempts.
“There were three minutes left, so even if we had got the ball back with the lead, that’s too much time to hold (the ball) against a team of that caliber,” Glasgow said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win, at least, but then we just didn’t make those plays, specifically at the free throw line.
“Hartville’s always going to create a few turnovers, but when you get to the free throw line, there’s your chance to capitalize,” he said. “We didn’t. That hurts, we need those.”
Another key aspect in the game: rebounding. Hartville was able to hold its own in offensive and defensive rebounding against a Licking front line trio that went 6’5”, 6’5” and 6’6”.
“We were much improved on the boards tonight,” Reed said. “It’s something we talked about in practice after the Blue and Gold. We struggled against the athleticism at the Blue and Gold – the Glendales and Parkviews. We wanted to make it a point (tonight) to block out and do a better job on the boards. I felt like that definitely was a positive for us tonight.”
Licking hosts Stoutland this Friday and Mtn. Grove on Tuesday. Hartville tries to build a new winning streak this Friday when it hosts Willow Springs.
Hartville 15 10 12 21 — 58
Licking 12 7 8 27 — 54
Hartville – Jace Keith 21, Deric Jones 18, Dune Piper 10, Wyatt Ward 6, Braden Keith 3
Licking – Nathan Wilson 28, Brady Smith 9, G.T. Nicholson 8, Clabe Sullins 5, Terance Hale 4
Ward makes key free throws after prolonged delay
With the stakes at their highest, Hartville’s Wyatt Ward had to wait, wait and then wait some more before making two of the biggest free throws in the game.
Here’s what happened:
Licking committed a foul moments after Wilson’s late 3-pointer that cut Hartville’s lead to 55-54. It was the fifth personal foul for that Licking player.
Ward went to the line and made his first free throw attempt.
But it was waved off after Licking’s bench protested that it had not been granted enough time to substitute for its disqualified player.
After about a five-minute delay, and referees discussing the issue with both head coaches, Ward sank two more free throws – with both counting this time – to extend the Eagles’ lead to 57-54 and set them up for the victory.