ROSS TWP. — Ross High School’s drive for first place in the Southwest Ohio Conference took a wrong turn very quickly Tuesday night.
Visiting Mount Healthy staggered the Rams in the first quarter, sprinting to an 18-0 lead and extending its winning streak to seven with a 65-46 boys basketball victory.
“I think we came out and folded right away,” admitted senior guard Cooper Shields, who led Ross with 14 points. “I think a lot of people just didn’t want to handle the ball with their pressure. Nobody really stepped up, and we didn’t have the energy to match their energy. We just came out flat somehow. I don’t really know how to explain why.”
BOYS BASKETBALL COVERAGE
The Rams didn’t wave the white flag, but they also never seriously challenged the SWOC-leading Owls. The margin remained in double digits the rest of the night.
“You’ve got to give those guys all the credit,” Ross coach David Lane said. “In every facet of the game, I thought they were a step better than us. Loose balls, offensive rebounds, finishing around the rim — they did it all. They were prepared and they wanted it more, and it showed in the first quarter. They killed us in transition. They were consistently leaking out two guys when our shot went up.”
Justin Abrams (18), Aushadon Mathis (15), Brandon Lanier (12) and Chris Simmons (11) directed the point parade for Mount Healthy, which improved to 11-4 overall and 7-1 in the conference. The Rams (10-5, 5-3), Harrison (6-7, 5-3) and Northwest (6-9, 4-3) are all chasing the Owls.
“I’m just hoping that we continue to play the way we’ve been playing and let the chips fall where they may,” Mount Healthy coach Adair Carmichael said. “As long as we’re playing hard, I’m happy. But I’m super happy when we win.”
The Owls, who won their only SWOC title in 2014-15 when they shared it with Northwest, were highly motivated Tuesday night. Ross came into their house and won 60-49 on Dec. 18.
Mount Healthy’s quickness, defensive pressure and rebounding want-to were evident in the rematch as Mathis tallied 11 points during the Owls’ 18-0 burst.
Cody Geers’ free throw ended the Ross drought with 11.8 seconds left in the first quarter. It was 18-1 at the first stop, and the Rams’ first field goal was a Shields stickback with 6:46 remaining in the second stanza.
“I didn’t expect it, but I received it,” a smiling Carmichael said of the game-opening run. “They beat us on a lot of backdoor cuts and got a lot of open 3s in our last game. We decided we weren’t going to give up those 3s, and we did that by communicating on defense. We switched on certain guys and on certain screens, and that helped us cover up shooters quicker.”
He said he could tell his players were ready for battle on the ride to Ross.
“I noticed something tonight I hadn’t seen all season,” Carmichael said. “They’re typically quiet on the way to a game, but they weren’t moving around. They were just focused.
“I said, ‘This is not them,’ but I think they learned something tonight. If you play this way on a consistent basis, if you’re playing that hard and following the game plan and rebounding the way we did, there’s not too many nights you’re going to lose.”
The Owls doubled the Rams on the boards, getting a game-high nine rebounds from Kollin Tolbert. Mathis and Alex Howard both added five.
Shields paced Ross with six rebounds. He was the only Ram to score in double figures, with Kerner Angel getting seven points in the last four minutes.
“I was disappointed in how we came out, but I was very pleased with how we battled the rest of the game,” said Lane, whose team trailed 34-19 at the break. “A lot of teams in the past here might have let that do them in for the whole game, and it might’ve been a 35- or 40-point loss. You don’t win a game in the first quarter, but you can certainly lose one.
“I challenged them at halftime to come out and give me everything they had and we’ll see where we are at the end of the game, and they never gave up. We’ve just got to be a little more ready to go. That’s probably on me as well. I’ll take the blame for not getting them fully ready. We can’t let this game be a hangover and let it affect the next two, three, four games.”
Shields believes the Rams will bounce back in strong fashion, starting with Friday’s trip to Edgewood.
“We’re going to step up for sure,” Shields said. “We’ve got to keep our heads up. First place isn’t out of the question. There’s still a lot of games to be played in the SWOC. We’ve got to act like we want to win every game.”
Mount Healthy will visit Wyoming on Saturday.
Mount Healthy 18-16-14-17—65
MOUNT HEALTHY (11-4, 7-1 SWOC): Justin Abrams 8 2 18; Kollin Tolbert 0 5 5; Aushadon Mathis 6 2 15; Taeveonne Elliott 1 0 2; Brandon Lanier 5 2 12; Chris Simmons 5 1 11; King Chambers 1 0 2. Totals: 26-12-65
ROSS (10-5, 5-3 SWOC): Dylan Zimmerman 0 2 2; Ben Yeager 0 2 2; Cooper Shields 6 1 14; Max Stepaniak 1 0 2; Cody Geers 1 2 4; Tyler Stenger 1 0 2; Isaiah Brinck 3 0 6; Jordan Hodge 0 2 2; Cole Gronas 1 1 4; Sean Lange 0 1 1; Kerner Angel 3 0 7. Totals: 16-11-46
3-pointers: M 1 (Mathis), R 3 (Shields, Gronas, Angel)
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