MORROW — There was no last-second magic in the air for Ross High School’s boys basketball team.
The Rams have been finding ways to win close games this season, including a 2-0 record in overtime affairs, but they couldn’t quite get it done Friday night at Little Miami.
Cole Spencer, the Southwest Ohio Conference’s leading scorer, tossed in 28 points for the host Panthers, who escaped with a 52-51 victory when Ross couldn’t get a 3-pointer to fall at the buzzer.
FRIDAY NIGHT BASKETBALL COVERAGE
“If you’ve got the ball at the last second with a shot to win, that’s all you can ask for on the road,” Rams coach David Lane said. “It didn’t fall in, but the kids played hard and never gave up. I think this league is a lot more balanced than what people think. It’s not the end of the world losing here, but it would’ve been nice to steal one.”
Cole Gronas (13), Cooper Shields (12) and Dylan Zimmerman (10) topped the scoring for Ross, which converted eight 3-pointers while only making seven 2-pointers.
The Rams fell to 7-3 overall and 3-2 in the SWOC. Little Miami moved to 4-5, 3-1, and will travel to conference leader Harrison (4-3, 3-0) on Saturday night.
“I think the league’s kind of a tossup. Every game’s close in our conference, so why not us?” Panthers coach Mike Craig said. “I think we have good chemistry. We’ve got guys starring in their roles right now, and that’s part of our success.”
Little Miami and Harrison tied for fifth in the preseason SWOC coaches poll. Four-time defending champion Northwest is 1-3 in conference play.
“We can take the conference this year. Really, we’re expecting to,” said Spencer, a 6-foot senior guard. “We’re on the way up here.”
Spencer started the game’s final sequence by missing the front end of the one-and-one with 6.2 seconds left. Gronas rebounded for the Rams, but teammate Ben Yeager’s shot from well beyond the 3-point line found iron at the other end.
“I was as confident as I could be walking up to the line, but it didn’t feel good coming off my hand,” Spencer said. “We actually lost on a buzzer beater earlier in the season (46-43 to Lebanon), so when he shot that last 3, it was kind of like slow motion, just watching the ball go up and then miss.”
“When I saw him shoot it, it was a little right, so I was pretty sure we were going to win after the ball was in the air. But you never know,” Craig said. “We’ve already had our depressing moment after that banked 3 against Lebanon, so it was good to get one that went our way at the end.”
Ross trailed by five twice (50-45 and 52-47) in the final minute. The visitors closed the gap to 52-51 on Shields’ 3-pointer with nine seconds remaining.
Little Miami won despite nearly doubling the Rams in turnovers (19-10).
“We had a lot of mental mistakes, but you’ve got to give Ross credit,” Craig said. “They were forcing us into some bad passes, guarding us tight, getting some deflections. They were making it hard for us to bring the ball down the court. Luckily we were able to take advantage of their aggressiveness on defense a few times and get a couple layups and a couple open 3s to give us the late lead.”
Spencer only had three points in the fourth quarter after scoring 18 in the first half. But the Panthers’ Antonio Holman and Garrett Briscoe buried huge treys in the final five minutes.
“They’re good spot shooters,” Craig said. “When you pay a whole lot of attention to Cole and leave those guys open, they’re going to knock a shot down. They do it in practice all the time, and they’ve started knocking down a few more shots in the game.”
“We’ve got to make sure we understand the scouting report,” Lane said. “It’s a learning experience. I never question their effort, but we do make some silly mistakes sometimes.”
Spencer credited the Rams for their defensive work against him after halftime.
“They always keep that guy right on me, and they picked up the pressure a lot in the second half,” Spencer said. “That’s when I can really create for my teammates, setting back screens and stuff. As long as we’re putting points up, we’re good. It doesn’t have to be me.”
Holman scored 10 points for Little Miami, and Spencer and Briscoe both grabbed six rebounds. Shields had six boards and Max Stepaniak added five for Ross.
The Rams played without senior forward Cody Geers. He suffered an ankle injury during last Friday’s 52-51 win at Northwest.
Lane said he would take a wait-and-see approach to Geers’ status for Saturday night’s game at Eaton.
“We need him for the rest of the season, so we don’t want to push him back and make it worse,” Lane said. “He’s a big piece of what we do, especially rebounding and changing the game defensively.”
Little Miami 14-12-13-13—52
ROSS (7-3, 3-2 SWOC): Dylan Zimmerman 2 5 10; Ben Yeager 1 3 5; Cooper Shields 4 2 12; Jordan Hodge 2 0 6; Sean Lange 1 0 2; Cole Gronas 4 3 13; Max Stepaniak 1 0 3. Totals: 15-13-51
LITTLE MIAMI (4-5, 3-1 SWOC): Ketan Prathapa 0 2 2; Andy Tucker 1 1 3; Garrett Briscoe 2 0 5; Cole Spencer 11 3 28; Trey Clemons 2 0 4; Antonio Holman 3 2 10. Totals: 19-8-52
3-pointers: R 8 (Shields 2, Hodge 2, Gronas 2, Zimmerman, Stepaniak), L 6 (Spencer 3, Holman 2, Briscoe)
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