MASON — Middletown High School boys basketball coach Kelven Moss didn’t like the pace Tuesday night. Jeremiah Landers was the first to change it.
Landers scored a team-high 17 points and the Middies rallied back from a double-digit second-half deficit to beat Greater Miami Conference rival Mason 56-55 at Mason Middle School Arena.
“When things got stagnant, he took over,” Moss said of Landers, a sophomore who scored seven of his points in a third quarter that proved to have shifted momentum to the Middies. “That’s when he knew to get other people involved.”
Landers said Middletown’s play down the stretch made up for the initial lack of intensity. Mason (4-2, 2-2 GMC) stormed out to an 8-0 lead in the first quarter and later a 31-21 lead out of the halftime break.
The Middies (4-2, 3-1 GMC) fought back both times.
“We started off slow,” Landers said. “With games like this, we’ve got to keep the pressure going from start to finish — the same energy, from start to finish.”
Mason senior Ben Golan, who bucketed a game-high 26 points and pulled down 13 rebounds, was the one who reeled off six straight points to give the Comets the 10-point advantage in the third quarter.
That’s when the Middies stepped up their full-court pressure.
“It’s our biggest growth area — being against pressure,” Mason first-year coach Adam Toohey said. “It’s not going away. We just have to see past it and focus through the fire.
“We wanted to make them shoot 3s, a lot,” Toohey added. “We’ve seen that they settle for 3s against zone. We did a good job of making them do that in the first half. Then they started hitting them later in the game.
“But a lot of those runs Middletown made were self-inflicted. We turned the ball over,” Toohey continued. “We got a little extended on some of our misses, and then they started hitting their 3s.”
Landers chipped in with his seven third-quarter points and senior Keatrick Thomas drained a 3-pointer with 2 minutes left in the frame to close out a Middies 12-3 run to tie it at 34-34.
Middletown sophomore Chandler Shields extended the run with a bucket and a trey to put the visitors ahead 39-34 with 1:10 left in the third, and the Middies never trailed the rest of the way.
Junior Jake Hanley knocked one down from behind the arc at the third-quarter buzzer to pull Mason to within 39-37.
“I think they had a lot of momentum heading into the fourth quarter — they hit a buzzer beater,” Landers said. “But we came out with a lot of energy in the fourth quarter. We came out and got some stops and made some runs. We knocked down some big, big shots.
“We turned up the pressure, and we turned up the D.”
Middletown led by as many as seven points in the final period before Mason marched back to tie at 52-52 on a Golan leaner with 1:20 remaining.
Junior Delamarr Blanton, who finished with nine points, drove to the hoop for a quick bucket and then made two free throws to give the Middies a 56-52 lead with 39 seconds left.
Middletown’s defense did the rest. Golan did hit a 3-pointer at the final buzzer to make it a one-point finish.
“I told them at halftime that we weren’t speeding them up,” Moss said. “I got in their butts and thought that the energy started to shift. We made them turn it over and started playing our style.
“Regardless of what happens, we needed to get out and run with the ball — get some layups and open up the jump shot,” Moss added.
Both teams shot around 43% from the floor, but it was Middletown that won the turnover battle, 19-13.
“It came down to execution,” Landers said. “Execution is key in this league, especially during the late minutes. That’s when it counted the most tonight.”
Middletown senior Izaiah Day and Mason junior Matt DeBrosse scored 13 points apiece.
IN THE KNOW
Middletown has won four out of its last five. … Heading into Tuesday night’s game, Mason had won 13 out of the last 15 contests against Middletown dating back to the 2014-2015 season. … Middletown has won two out of the last three meetings against Mason.
Both teams get back to action on the road Friday night. Middletown travels to Princeton, while Mason visits Fairfield.
“We need games like this to show that we can finish them in order to prepare us for teams like Princeton,” Moss said.
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