Ross High School junior guard Ben Yeager talks about his team and the Rams'™ 8-5 start this season.

Prep basketball: Lane driving Ross boys in strong turnaround season

He was a fiery player for Ross High School’s boys basketball team — and then Mount St. Joseph at the college level — in the not-so-distant past, and he’s still the same guy now that he’s moved to the bench as the Rams head coach.

“I’m sure some of the parents will say I’m very animated on the sideline,” said Lane, a 2008 Ross graduate. “People say, ‘You’re always so intense in the games.’ I say, ‘That’s how I played. That’s how I’m going to coach too.’ ”

FIRST MEETING: Ross 69, Edgewood 65 (OT)

The Rams have been desperate for success in recent years and haven’t seen much of it. They were 18-5 in 2012-13, yet followed that up with four seasons that produced a 22-69 record.

But the tide has started to turn this season under Lane, a first-year head coach. Ross has taken on his personality and stands 8-5 overall and 5-2 in the Southwest Ohio Conference, second only to Northwest (8-6, 7-0).

Lane was the Rams junior varsity coach the last four years and the freshman coach for a season before that. As an RHS player, he enjoyed a 29-13 record in his junior and senior years.

“I’m glad we’re starting to see the culture turn a little bit,” said Lane, 27. “It’s been tough the last couple years. You go to work and people would ask you, ‘Did you guys lose again today?’ It just got old over and over again.

“I’m extremely humbled by this opportunity. My goal is to get it back where it was consistently with 12, 13, 14 wins a season and get people consistently packing the gym every Friday and Saturday night. I want the Ross community to be excited about the Ross basketball program again.”

Junior guard Ben Yeager, who played for Lane on last year’s JV team, said the varsity atmosphere is different this season.

“It’s changed a lot — a lot more fans, the student section’s been great,” Yeager said. “Coach Lane’s really changed the culture around here. Defense was his thing back when he played, and he’s really made that mold onto us.

BOYS BASKETBALL: Madison 60, Carlisle 41

GIRLS BASKETBALL: Fenwick 63, Carlisle 34

“He’s always saying once we get the mental part down, we’ll be a great team. Right now we’re just playing hard, and if we’re making mistakes, we’re just trying to make them playing 100 miles an hour.”

The first real sign of a Ross revival came on Dec. 22 at Edgewood. The Rams trailed 42-24 midway through the third quarter, then stormed back for a 69-65 overtime victory.

Ross has won seven of its last nine contests and will take a four-game winning streak into its Friday night rematch with the visiting Cougars (7-8, 4-4).

“I think that win kind of got our confidence going in the right direction,” Lane said. “But they’re going to come in here ready to play. We know Edgewood is going to give us everything they have.”

The Rams are led by SWOC Player of the Year candidate Landen Angel. The senior swingman tops the conference in scoring (21.0) and is averaging 6.5 rebounds per game while shooting 52.9 percent from the floor and 46.3 percent from 3-point range.

Landen Angel of Ross, this season’s leading scorer in the Southwest Ohio Conference with a 21-point average, heads to the hoop during a game at Edgewood’s Ron Kash Court on Jan. 27, 2017. JOURNAL-NEWS FILE PHOTO

Joining him in the current starting five are Yeager (6.6 ppg), junior point guard Dylan Zimmerman (6.5), junior forward Cody Geers (4.8) and senior center Joe Valentine (2.2).

Ross is a fast-paced, man-to-man defensive team that’s allowing a SWOC-best 50.2 points per game.

“When I played here, it was all zone. We didn’t play any man,” Lane said. “I went to college and played man-to-man, and I loved it. It just holds people accountable more. And with our limited size, I think if you match up with a man and box him out, the responsibility is easier and you have a little more communication.”

While there’s no question that Angel is the Rams’ horse — “He’s having the type of season he deserves after putting in so much work in the offseason,” Lane said — the team is getting contributions from a lot of different players.

Junior guard Cooper Shields, for example, is getting 4.4 points per contest. He fired in 17 with four 3-pointers in the win over Edgewood.

Ross coach David Lane keeps a close eye on the action during his team’s 69-65 overtime victory at Edgewood on Dec. 22, 2017. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

“We’ve got great kids who just play so hard,” Lane said. “I’ve coached these guys with the JVs, so I knew we could start to do some special things. But they needed to realize it themselves and understand how hard you have to work to get where we are right now.”

The SWOC title remains a goal for Ross, which plays at Northwest on Feb. 2. Winning a Division II tournament game is another goal.

The Rams’ last postseason win came in 2011-12, a 58-46 Division I triumph over Oak Hills. Their last five tournament games were beatdowns by an average score of 88-38.

“It’s been a while,” Lane said. “I think a win in the state tournament would speak volumes of the effort the kids have put in and the ability to put their foot in the ground and say, ‘We’re done with this losing stuff.’ ”

Ross has a makeup game at Goshen on Saturday night.

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