Bailey sparks Middies past West with big inside effort

Jomar Bailey was the dunkmaster general Tuesday night.

The Middletown High School senior sparked his team’s struggling offense with a career-high 23 points and six dunks as the Middies defeated visiting Lakota West 53-42 in Greater Miami Conference boys basketball action at Wade E. Miller Gym.

“We didn’t want to lose a game at home, so from the start of the first play, we came out with a lot of intensity,” Bailey said. “Just pound it inside — that’s what we wanted to do. We were either going to make it or we were going to the free-throw line.”

Bailey established the tone right away with an alley-oop slam off a pass from Cliff Snow in the game’s first 30 seconds. It was a designed play by Middletown coach Darnell Hoskins.

“He was like, ‘We’re going to come out with a bang,’ ” Bailey said. “Great pass. I was right there to take it down. It felt good when the crowd erupted.”

Bailey blocked four shots and was 9 of 10 from the floor for the Middies, who sizzled the nets with 65.4-percent shooting after failing to reach 40 points in three games last week.

“Getting him involved early helps, and it also motivates him on the defensive end of the floor,” Hoskins said of Bailey’s opening dunk. “So if dangling the carrot of a dunk or two early gets him going and is going to make him a manimal on the backboards, great. I’ll do it every game.”

Middletown didn’t exactly close with a flourish after storming to a 36-15 lead in the third quarter, but the Firebirds deserved some credit for that.

“They stepped up and stuck a couple shots, and a couple of them were pretty deep,” Hoskins said. “I wasn’t happy because we should’ve adjusted the zone. We didn’t, so I’ll take partial blame for that, but some of it was we fell asleep defensively a couple times. We got complacent and satisfied. I called a couple timeouts to say, ‘Hey, don’t take this for granted. We just lost two in a row with that type of attitude.’ ”

Will Nguyen paced West with 12 points and hit three 3-pointers in the final period to get the visitors as close as nine (44-35 and 46-37).

“I think we had four turnovers and a missed layup to start the game, and turnovers have been a nemesis to us,” Firebirds coach Matt Rooks said. “I was proud of the guys because we fought and fought and fought. I thought the guys that were playing in the fourth quarter battled no matter what and just played for each other, and that’s who we have to be. But when we get open shots, we’ve got to start making some of them.”

West shot 31.8 percent from the field and got 10 points from Payton Porterfield in falling to 4-6 overall and 2-4 in the GMC. Snow scored 13 points for Middletown (4-5, 4-2).

“I never like losing, but I think losing two in a row did us some good because it kind of woke us up,” Hoskins said. “It gave us a sense of urgency and that kick in the butt we needed.

“Even as a staff, it gave us a kick in the butt. We knew that we needed to be a little more innovative and a little more simple. We eliminated some of the complexities of our offense and just let them go out and play and do what they naturally do best. We just said, ‘You know what? Let’s just KISS it — keep it simple, stupid.’ That’s what we tried to do.

“I thought we really had two good days of preparation for this game. There’s no mystery to me that we played fairly decently tonight because we practiced that way. It sounds cliche-ish, but you’re going to play the way you practice.”

The Middies’ first-year coach has talked about his team’s need to take advantage of its size in the paint. That starts with the 6-foot-6 Bailey.

For the Firebirds, it meant bad news was coming whenever he got the ball down low.

“We left him a lot, and he’s very athletic,” Rooks said. “When no one guards him, he’s going to dunk it a lot. That was our fault, but give him credit for taking advantage of us.”

“To his credit, Jomar kind of took the constructive criticism to heart that we weren’t getting enough production out of him, and he took the challenge and responded,” Hoskins said. “We have to be able to utilize his athleticism because he’s the most athletic kid in the building most nights.”

Said Bailey, “I was just on tonight. I was feeling myself.”

MHS was 6 of 9 from beyond the arc and made 13 of 19 free throws. Nelson Rutledge grabbed a team-high five rebounds, while Snow dished out four assists.

Middletown hasn’t lost at home this season. The Middies are 3-0 at the Miller, 1-4 on the road and 0-1 on a neutral court … they’re hosting Hamilton on Friday.

“Hamilton’s a real test for us in a lot of ways because they have been in every game. They’re a dangerous team,” Hoskins said. “They’re a lot like us. They’re trying to right the ship and stay in the thick of things. It should be an interesting ballgame.”

Connor Howard was the top rebounder (six) for West, which will be on the road to face GMC leader Oak Hills on Friday.

The Firebirds have been playing without senior forward Cameron Anzer, who’s missed five games with a foot injury. Rooks is hopeful that he’ll return to action “in a week or so.”

Lakota West 4-7-12-19—42

Middletown 11-10-15-17—53

LAKOTA WEST (4-6, 2-4 GMC): Connor Howard 2 0 4, Will Nguyen 4 0 12, Frank Schmitt 2 0 5, Keegan Fish 1 5 8, Payton Porterfield 4 2 10, Myles Greenwood 1 0 3. Totals: 14-7-42

MIDDLETOWN (4-5, 4-2 GMC): Nelson Rutledge 1 2 5, Cliff Snow 4 2 13, Christian Strother 2 0 6, Colin Isaacs 0 2 2, Jawunn Bailey 0 2 2, Jomar Bailey 9 5 23, Chris Stallworth 1 0 2. Totals: 17-13-53

3-pointers: L 7 (Nguyen 4, Schmitt, Fish, Greenwood), M 6 (Snow 3, Strother 2, Rutledge)

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