MIDDLETOWN — A strong effort gave Middletown High School’s boys basketball team a chance to win Sunday afternoon.
The Middies couldn’t close the deal against Canadian power Crestwood Prep in the inaugural Midwest King Classic, but the hosts found reasons for optimism in the 64-50 defeat at Wade E. Miller Arena.
“We didn’t do everything right, but for the most part, the kids had the right attitude, so I can deal with it,” said Middletown coach Darnell Hoskins, whose squad fell to 5-9. “The things that we can clean up are more strategic than anything, and once we address those things, we should be in good shape in the later half of the season.”
BOYS BASKETBALL COVERAGE
Chris Stallworth put up 12 points and nine rebounds for the Middies, who stayed within striking distance despite trailing most of the day.
Aaron Jones (10 points, seven boards, six steals) and Kei’Aunte Powell (10 points, five rebounds) were also among the top contributors. Jayden Jackson chipped in nine points.
“Give our kids cedit,” Hoskins said. “They scrapped and fought. Anything that was on the ground, we got it. In these kind of games, that’s what you’ve got to do.
“Those kind of teams, they want to make it pretty and they want to get out and they want to dunk and they want the oohs and aahs, but if you’re gritty and you turn it into an ugly affair, they tend to struggle. For a good bit of the game, that’s what they did. We had them right where we wanted them.”
Toronto-based Crestwood (23-4), which lost to Fairmont and defeated Dohn Prep in the two previous days at Flyin’ to the Hoop in Kettering, was clinging to a 37-35 lead early in the fourth quarter against Middletown.
But the Lions took charge from there, sinking three straight 3-pointers — two by Kobe Antwi — in a span of 63 seconds. The Middies could get no closer than seven the rest of the way.
“They were missing some players, but we knew it was a winnable game because they lost to Fairmont the other day,” said Powell, a senior guard. “We went into the game prepared to play gritty defense and get all the loose balls.
“We stuck to our game plan and it worked for the most part, but in the fourth quarter, I think fatigue got us. They were a bigger, faster and stronger team, but I think we were the more aggressive team. Fatigue just got us and they broke away.”
Antwi paced Crestwood with 23 points. Wake Forest commit Jahcobi Neath, a 6-foot-4 point guard, had 16 points, six assists and four steals, and Trevon Thomas marked 15 points, four 3-pointers and five assists.
Assistant coach Nick Krenk directed the Lions in the absence of head coach Ro Russell, who came to Ohio for the first Flyin’ contest, then headed home because his wife was in the hospital. And Crestwood played without 6-5 Elijah Fisher, an eighth-grade sensation who’s sidelined with a hip injury.
“Both these tournaments have been fantastic,” Krenk said. “There’s a lot of talent in Toronto and Canada, but there’s just not the support for the high school programs. We sometimes play in front of 50 to 100 people — that’s a normal thing. It’s not normal to have a beautiful facility like this and Fairmont.
“We don’t get to play in great facilities with a little bit more raucous atmosphere like this, and when our guys go to the next level for D-I, they need these opportunities. Not even so much for the level of competition … they just need to be in intense atmospheres. It’s too bad, and I don’t know why it’s like that in Canada. I’m from Nebraska, so I’m used to even small towns having gyms that hold even more than their town’s population is.
“We would love to come back next year. Ohio obviously takes their sports very seriously. These tournaments were top notch.”
The Middies didn’t want to run with the Lions, instead focusing on keeping the game at a slower pace. It proved to be a mostly successful strategy.
“I’ve played in these kind of games for several years, and the one thing I’ve discovered about these kind of teams is that not a huge emphasis is placed on them defending,” Hoskins said. “I thought if we exhibited patience in the offensive end, we’d position ourselves to have a chance when the game was in the balance.”
Krenk admitted it was a good game plan. He watched his players get frustrated by the pace.
“It was a grueling battle, let’s just say that,” Krenk said. “Where we play we have a 24-second shot clock. I told the guys, ‘I’m from the states. I know they’ll run clock and be patient.’ We’re not used to teams being as patient as Middletown. They did a great job of making us work on defense, and it’s tough to defend teams like that. Sometimes you get bailed out with a quick shot clock.”
Middletown earned a slight 33-31 edge in rebounding, though Crestwood came up with some big boards and used its size around the basket. Luis Pacheco Jr., a 6-8 center, had 16 rebounds and blocked four shots.
“They came out and stuck a couple shots against the zone early in the fourth, then we had to go man,” Hoskins said. “Call a spade a spade … they were bigger than us. If we didn’t turn them over with our pressure out front, we were a liability once it got below the free-throw line. I knew that going in.”
The Middies shot 36.2 percent from the floor and turned the ball over 15 times, and the Lions shot 47.6 percent and committed 16 turnovers.
Crestwood totaled 11 blocked shots, five by 6-10 Jo Smith. Krenk said Smith, Antwi and Pacheco all have NCAA Division I offers.
Middletown will take a five-game losing streak to Oak Hills on Friday.
“We’ve tried to have short-term memory and leave everything in the past,” Powell said. “We’re getting better at practice. There’s been a lot of individual play, but we had a good talk, and I think we’re on a good track for the end of the season.”
Butch Carter, a 1976 Middletown graduate, was recognized at halftime as the King Classic honoree. Carter earned Ohio Player of the Year and Coach of the Year honors with the Middies. He went on to play professionally and was the head coach for the NBA’s Toronto Raptors.
Carter’s son Josh is a freshman at Crestwood, which has senior (grades 11-12) and junior (grades 9-10) programs. Josh Carter plays with the juniors.
“I don’t know if basketball is Josh’s first love, but he’s super active in the school and a really great asset to the community,” Krenk said.
CRESTWOOD (23-4): Jahcobi Neath 3 9 16; Luis Pacheco Jr. 2 0 4; Trevon Thomas 5 1 15; Kobe Antwi 7 6 23; K’Shawn Latty 2 0 4; William Charles 1 0 2. Totals: 20-16-64
MIDDLETOWN (5-9): Kei’Aunte Powell 3 4 10; Aaron Jones 5 0 10; Rob Thompson 2 1 5; Johrdon Mumford 2 0 4; Chris Stallworth 5 2 12; Jayden Jackson 4 0 9. Totals: 21-7-50
3-pointers: C 8 (Thomas 4, Antwi 3, Neath), M 1 (Jackson)