OXFORD — All the talk of a possible winless season for Talawanda High School’s boys basketball team ended in resounding fashion last Saturday night.
The Brave had to head across the border to Brookville, Ind., to get the job done, but they took care of business with a 72-47 rout of Franklin County and improved to 1-15 under first-year coach Bobby Jones.
“A streak always starts with one,” Jones said. “I was more happy for the kids than anything else. It was a great night for the kids and the parents who have been so supportive. It’s nice to see things are heading in the right direction. Our day’s coming.”
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The team’s overall losing streak was 20, dating back to a 53-51 triumph at Mount Healthy on Feb. 2, 2018. Five of this year’s defeats have come by single digits.
The win over Franklin County was never really in doubt. Talawanda led 20-8 after one quarter and 40-16 at halftime.
“It was awesome,” senior point guard David Kraushar said. “We came out really fast, which was unique to that game. We usually don’t come out so strong, but that game we particularly had a little edge, a certain intensity we hadn’t had all season.
“Part of that is due to Coach Jones. He’s really been pushing us, telling us that the beginning of the game is very important and something that we have to carry through all four quarters.”
Kraushar scored a career-high 14 points for the Brave, who are 0-8 in the Southwest Ohio Conference. Sophomore guard Craig James and sophomore forward Jonathan Richter had 20 and 16, respectively.
Jones said there’s been more of an emphasis on pressure defense in recent weeks. Talawanda was strong at turning turnovers into points and sinking free throws (14-of-18) last Saturday, things the team has struggled with this season.
“I thought we’d have an advantage from a strength standpoint because of the physicality of our conference,” Jones said. “We’ve still got a long way to go in that area, which is why going into the offseason that we’ll probably be in the weight room more than we’ll be in the basketball gym.
“It was neat to see how excited our kids were at halftime. I’m usually the last one to enter the locker room, and I go in there and they’re just bouncing off the walls. It took us three or four minutes to get them settled down. We had to bring them back down to earth and say, ‘Hey, it’s two halves. When we walk out of this locker room, the score is 0-0.’
“We took our foot off the pedal a little bit in the second half. We really concentrated on getting better in our halfcourt defense. Their coach is also a good friend of mine, and I wasn’t about to go out and press the entire second half. Who are we to do that sitting where we are with our record and taking some of the whippings that we’ve taken this year?”
Jones said his five seniors — Kraushar, Tommy Winkler, Tristan Fontaine, John Beckett and Ryan Henes — have worked hard to make sure the team has stayed positive all season.
“We’ve got each other,” Kraushar said. “I’ve tried to make the best out of it, and I know my friends have. We come to practice every day ready to work. Every game Coach always tells us to imagine if it’s your last game. That really hits me home because this is a sport that I love, so I like to give it everything I’ve got and give this team everything I’ve got.”
Jones, a native of New Castle, Ind., said this isn’t his first rebuilding project. He was the head coach at Hagerstown (Ind.) the last 10 years and said that was a similar situation.
“The one thing I’ve found in 20 years of coaching high school sports is kids are resilient,” Jones said. “If you lay out the goals at the beginning and let them know there may be more lows than highs, it’s easy to stay on the same page and keep them coming back and keep them hungry and keep them interested in getting better every day.
“The main goal was to get the foundation laid this season and stick together, stay positive with each other. There’s not one practice or one game that I could put my finger on and say that we did not play hard or we did not get better in some respect. That’s a credit to those five seniors.”
The weight room will be the Brave’s priority in the offseason, according to Jones.
“The good news is we’ve got a lot of young talent that’s getting better,” he said. “I’ve got to believe that if these kids are going to put in the time and effort and all the hard work like they say they’re going to do in the offseason, next year could be a really, really successful season for us.”
James (10.5) and Richter (8.2) are Talawanda’s leading scorers, followed by Winkler (6.6), Kraushar (5.3) and junior guard Josh Verst (5.3). That’s the current starting five.
The Brave will host SWOC leader Mount Healthy on Friday, and five of their last six regular-season games are at home. Talawanda hasn’t won on its home floor since beating Harrison 62-53 on Dec. 23, 2016.
“The wins and losses are obviously not where we want it to be, but in a way, I think this season has been a success,” Jones said. “Normally when you’re going through a rebuild and you’re not winning games, kids get frustrated. Attitudes start to show. You may have a kid or two quit. We haven’t had any of that. The support of these kids and the parents and the administration has not wavered, and that’s what’s made this season so much fun.”