Middletown falters down the stretch, suffers 48-44 loss to Alter

Middletown’s Jawunn Bailey chases down a loose ball during Monday night’s game against Alter in the Premier Health Flyin’ to the Hoop at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF
Caption
Middletown’s Jawunn Bailey chases down a loose ball during Monday night’s game against Alter in the Premier Health Flyin’ to the Hoop at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF

The Premier Health Flyin’ to the Hoop ended quietly for Middletown High School’s boys basketball team.

The Middies surged to a pair of 10-point leads in the first half against Alter, but stumbled down the stretch and dropped a 48-44 decision at Fairmont’s Trent Arena on Monday night.

“I thought for a half, our kids played really, really well and really hard,” Middletown coach Darnell Hoskins said. “This team has a level of complacency once they experience some success. We have not taken the giant step forward to being able to sustain that level of focus and energy for another 16 minutes.

“It’s a strange anomaly. I would think that a team who hasn’t experienced so much success would be hungry for more. I’m just wondering what the disconnect is. We’ve got to figure out our secret sauce.

“If you know anything about me, I never blame my kids. It’s something I’ve got to fix. I’ve got to figure out what’s going to ignite that light bulb where it stays on consistently. We’re at the halfway point of the season now, and I think it’s a learning experience for all of us, coaches included.”

Cliff Snow scored 13 points and Jomar Bailey had 12 for the Middies (4-7). Five of their losses have come by a total of 10 points.

The Flyin’ finale was this kind of game: Middletown erupted for 23 points in the second quarter and totaled 21 points in the other three periods.

“Coming out at half, we just didn’t have the same intensity,” Snow said. “I think their 1-3-1 kind of discouraged us a little from attacking … they didn’t play that in the first half. We got sort of stagnant on offense coming down the stretch.”

The Middies led 23-13 and 25-15 in the second stanza, 29-22 at halftime and 36-33 heading into the fourth quarter.

The Knights (10-2) then reeled off nine straight points to take control as Middletown went more than seven minutes without scoring. Dominic Laravie, a 6-foot-6 forward, tallied eight points in the last period and 21 overall for Alter.

“Give them credit,” Hoskins said. “They stuck to their game plan. They didn’t panic. They made toughness plays. They found their guy. As a direct result of that, they were able to get on top of us. And I think once they were able to get on top of us, we kind of experienced a lull as to where we were lost. We were searching to find some identity the rest of the game.”

Knights coach Eric Coulter wasn’t shocked that his team came out flat at the beginning of the game. It was Alter’s third contest in four days — it beat Fenwick 47-41 on Friday and lost to Moeller 60-46 on Saturday. The Moeller game was played at Little Miami as part of the fundraising Kevin C. Barnhill Coaches Basketball Showcase.

Middletown’s Colin Isaacs (with ball) is checked by Alter’s Robby Ruffolo during Monday night’s game in the Premier Health Flyin’ to the Hoop at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF
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Middletown’s Colin Isaacs (with ball) is checked by Alter’s Robby Ruffolo during Monday night’s game in the Premier Health Flyin’ to the Hoop at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF

Coulter, a Little Miami graduate, admitted he was responsible for this difficult stretch on the schedule.

“Actually, it would’ve been a lot worse than that because the original schedule had Urbana (Tuesday) at Urbana. We were able to change that one,” he said. “But it was one of those things where getting the opportunity to play in Flyin’ to the Hoop, we were going to take that every time. And Saturday was for a special cause. I’m not going to say no to that either.”

And what about the Knights’ first-half performance against the Middies?

“There’s no Xs and Os that you can put on the board to say, ‘Hey, they’re playing harder than you,’ and I felt like they were,” Coulter said. “So at halftime we got on our guys a little bit. We had to jumpstart them and try to tell them the shots will be there. You have to be patient against a zone, and you need to rebound. Saturday against Moeller, we gave up 22 offensive rebounds, and that was pretty much the difference in the game. Tonight, we had one offensive rebound in the first half. That just can’t happen.”

Laravie grabbed six rebounds and was clearly a force that Middletown couldn’t stop down low, but Coulter liked the contributions he got from the rest of his team. Guys like Robby Ruffolo (10 points), Connor Bazelak (seven points, four boards) and Michael Beam (two points, five rebounds).

“Michael Beam taking three charges in the fourth quarter was just huge for us,” Coulter said. “We depend on Dom a lot. He’s a special kid and a special player. But tonight I felt like everyone contributed and made a huge play towards the end.

“There was also time management with the basketball. You need to take care of the basketball when you have a lead. You need to be smart with it. They were comfortable in their zone, and they had to come out of their zone at the end of the game to pressure us, and I thought we did a really nice job. We went with a little North Carolina/Dean Smith four corner and were able to get some easy buckets and hold onto the lead.”

The Middies committed six turnovers in the fourth quarter and shot 33.3 percent from the floor in the second half.

Nelson Rutledge marked seven points, Jawunn Bailey added six points and seven rebounds, and Christian Strother had four points, four boards and six assists for Middletown. Jomar Bailey contributed five rebounds and three steals, while Snow snared six caroms.

Middletown’s Nelson Rutledge (center) gets whacked by Alter’s Robby Ruffolo on Monday night during the Premier Health Flyin’ to the Hoop at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF
Caption
Middletown’s Nelson Rutledge (center) gets whacked by Alter’s Robby Ruffolo on Monday night during the Premier Health Flyin’ to the Hoop at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF

“I don’t think anybody can really slow us down except for us,” Snow said. “Down the stretch, we just didn’t make plays. Part of that’s on me and part of that’s on the other seniors to get us going in the second half. I still think by tournament time, we’re going to be a tough team.”

Hoskins said he’s savoring the challenge of trying to mold this group of kids into winners on the court.

“I love this,” he said. “The highs, the lows, the frustration that I feel right now trying to figure this team out … I love every inch of it. So I’ll go home and go to work dissecting the film and figure out where we’re going flat and how I can adjust properly for the personnel I have.”

Hoskins believes the Middies’ schedule is one of the toughest in the state. The next three opponents are Princeton (at home Friday), Wayne and Mason.

“I learn best by putting my teams in the fire and seeing how they respond,” Hoskins said. “How are you going to know what adjustments you need to make if you’re playing lollipops all the time? That makes no sense to me to play those kind of teams. Our schedule is designed purposely this way so that I can figure out by tournament time what we need to do to potentially make a run.”

Alter will visit Chaminade Julienne for a key Greater Catholic League Coed North Division contest Friday. Both teams are unbeaten in league play.

Middletown 6-23-7-8—44

Alter 10-12-11-15—48

MIDDLETOWN (4-7): Nelson Rutledge 3 0 7, Broderick McGhee 1 0 2, Cliff Snow 4 2 13, Christian Strother 2 0 4, Jawunn Bailey 2 2 6, Jomar Bailey 4 4 12. Totals: 16-8-44

ALTER (10-2): Robby Ruffolo 4 0 10, J.P. Schimpf 2 0 5, James Finke 1 0 3, Dominic Laravie 10 1 21, Connor Bazelak 2 2 7, Michael Beam 0 2 2. Totals: 19-5-48

3-pointers: M 4 (Snow 3, Rutledge), A 5 (Ruffolo 2, Schimpf, Finke, Bazelak)