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Rebels fend off Crawford County

Rebels fend off Crawford County
Rebels fend off Crawford County
South Central’s Cole Thomas (22) tries to get a shot off around Crawford County’s Nash Stroud at the end of the first quarter but was instead called for a charging foul. He still finished with 27 points in the Rebels’ 62-60 win. Photo by Wade Bell
By Wade Bell, Sports Writer

After getting beaten up by Forest Park in their season opener, the Crawford County Wolfpack bounced back with a much better performance before coming up a basket short to host South Central on Saturday night. The Rebels, who lost their opener to North Harrison a few nights before, took advantage of a late turnover and squeaked out a 62-60 win.

“It was not pretty, but I told our kids after the game that we didn’t play really well but we did enough things to win the game and I was proud of them because we started out poorly and we fought back,” said Rebels’ coach Greg Robinson. “After we got the lead, Crawford County came back at us, and that’s the mark of a team that’s understanding how to win because when they came back at us we weathered that.”

“It was a great effort,” said Crawford County coach John Hayes. “We talked about different things in the scouting report, and the kids did a nice job of trying to take some of that stuff away. I like this group because they listen and they work hard. We were right there at the very end.”

The Wolfpack got off to a much better start than they did against Forest Park, knocking down seven of their 13 field-goal attempts in the first quarter. South Central, meanwhile, struggled, hitting four of 14, and Crawford County went out to a 17-10 lead.

The teams traded points through the first part of the second period, then Cole Thomas sank a pair of free throws and Tanner Smith scored inside, closing the gap to two, 21-19. Crawford County followed with a 9-1 burst to lead by 10. Thomas drilled a three in the final seconds, and the Wolfpack went to the locker room with a 30-23 advantage at the break.

“A lot of that from last time is three of those starters had never played a varsity minute,” said Hayes. “That’s going to be a little nerve-wracking for them. We talked about we had to have a better start of the game, and I think that was something we could show them. If we do that and come out playing like that at the beginning, then we’ll have a chance.”

“We emphasized effort or lack of it,” Robinson said of his half-time talk. “We’re struggling like everyone else is with the flu, but we just weren’t there in the first half mentally. I thought that our focus was not good; I’ll take the blame for that. The lack of it is on me. I didn’t get them ready to play like we needed to. We just talked about getting our focus back and start playing basketball the way we’re supposed to play it.”

Nash Stroud scored the opening basket of the second half for the Wolfpack, but South Central followed with a 13-0 run to lead 36-32. At that point, baskets started going back and forth but Reese Allen drilled a Crawford County three from the left wing to close the gap to one. Ethan Hedden put in a Rebels’ free throw, but Isaac Nickelson finished out the quarter with four points, giving Crawford County a 41-39 edge with one quarter to go.

The Rebels began the fourth with a 6-0 burst before the baskets and points went back and forth. Crawford County suffered a blow with just under a minute to go when Nickelson was called for his fifth foul and had to leave the floor. Thomas converted a deuce-and-one on the play for a 59-56 Rebels’ lead.

Zander Sattler kept Crawford County within one from the charity stripe as the clock ticked closer to zero. Smith knocked down a pair of South Central free throws for a 62-59 lead with less than 10 seconds left. Thomas then fouled Laken Belcher. who hit the first of two free throws. South Central called timeout with five seconds left. When play resumed, Belcher bounced his second free throw off the rim. Crawford County got the rebound, but the ball came loose and went out of bounds to the Rebels, who secured the 62-60 win.

“We called for the missed free throw,” said Hayes. “We get the rebound and had our shooter open in the corner and just threw it away. You can’t be mad about that. What’s the chances of getting that rebound on that missed free throw anyway? So, I told them afterwards I’m proud of them. There are no moral victories but you can, obviously, tell we’re making progress. That team wore us out last year. I just believe our guys are progressing every day.”

“Both teams were playing really rugged, and it was tough to get into a flow,” Robinson said. “The things we wanted to do defensively, we got hurt by the fact that we kept putting them to the free-throw line and not making them earn their baskets.”

Nickelson led Crawford County with 18 for the game, and Belcher finished with 14. Sattler added 12 for the Wolfpack, who canned 17 of 44 field goals (39%) and 19 of 28 free throws. Crawford County had 15 turnovers for the night.

“We knew they had a couple of guys who could score,” said Robinson. “Nickelson and Belcher are good players. We wanted to contain Nickelson and keep Belcher from hitting three-point shots, but our communication on defense was not very good on a couple of things.”

“When we scored to tie it, I told the kids, ‘You don’t know this situation but, if we score to tie it ,then we’re going to get away from our full-court pressure, man to man and we’re just going to back up’,” said Hayes. “At that point, we still got up on the ball and they got past us and we fouled Thomas and he goes and hits the free throws. That’s just something we’ll learn because you’ve never been in that situation.”

Thomas had a big night for the Rebels with 27 points, and Hedden dumped in 14. Jarrett Ferree put 11 points on the board for South Central, which connected on 20 of 49 shots (41%) from the field and 25 of 35 from the charity stripe. The Rebels had 14 turnovers for the 32 minutes.

“He’s a great player,” Hayes said of Thomas. “He’s their best player, and you try to limit him as much as you can but you know he’s going to get his.”

“We had the opportunity to put some guys into a really pressured situation,” Robinson said. “Tanner Smith took a charge and stepped up and made a couple of free throws. He’s just a sophomore and didn’t have the one game we had because he was sick. This was a really good last three or four minutes for him. Giving all of our kids the opportunity to make some plays when it counted, and we had several of them, that’s a great lesson to learn. Hopefully, we can get it to carry over now.”

“I thought our kids did a nice job of battling,” said Hayes. “I told them, ‘It’s not very hard to watch you guys and see already the steps you’ve taken. If you just keep listening about what we’re talking about doing, you’ve got to believe the fact that we’ll keep doing that.’ By the end of the year, we’re going to be a really hard team to play.”

Crawford County 17 13 11 19 – 60
South Central 10 13 16 23 – 62
Crawford County – Nickelson 18, Belcher 14, Sattler 12, Stroud 6, Seibert 5, Allen 3, Grizzel 2.
South Central – Thomas 27, Hedden 14, Ferree 11, Smith 5, Renn 4, Stewart 1.
3-point goals – Crawford County 3 (Belcher 2, Allen 1); South Central 3 (Thomas 2, Ferree 1).