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Hillsboro holds off Vandals with 3-point barrage

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By Seth Whitehead

The Vandalia boys basketball team could not be stopped inside Tuesday night at Hillsboro, as big men Mitch Johnson and Will Cowger combined to score 44 points.

But, unfortunately, the Hiltoppers couldn't miss from the outside.

Hillsboro held off the Vandals by connecting on 12 shots from beyond the arc in a 69-59 SCC-East victory.

Many of those 3-pointers came at crucial junctures in the second half, which - along with a similarly inordinate amount of breaks for the home team - kept the Vandals from getting over the hump, despite a furious rally from a 25-11 second-quarter deficit.

"That's how it's going for us," VCHS coach Kevin Jackson said. "We're not catching any breaks, and it's hard to turn that tide.

"I feel that in the second half, we had a solid effort. We just didn't get over the hump."

The Hiltoppers (4-7, 2-0) have relied heavily on the 3-point shot so far this year, but the frequency, accuracy and timing in which the host team connected from long distance bordered on the ridiculous.

Hillsboro wound up with a 3-point percentage that looked more like a free-throw percentage, connecting on 60 percent of their shots (12 for 20) from beyond the arc.

The Vandals were equally effective in the paint, particularly in the third quarter.

Cowger started the second half by scoring 10-straight points for the Vandals, as all five of his buckets came either in transition or in the paint.

Johnson then took his turn inside, scoring 10 of the Vandals final 12 points during a 22-point third-quarter outburst.

But seemingly every time the Vandals were on the brink of getting over the hump, the Hiltoppers countered with a 3-pointer, a second-chance bucket or free throws off disputed calls.

The Vandals managed to cut Hillsboro's lead to just one point, 46-45, on a Drew Bell transition bucket off a Cowger steal early in the fourth quarter.

But the Hiltoppers countered with a 13-2 run that included two 3-pointers by Jordan Chiles, who was 4-for-4 from behind the arc in the second half.

Hillsboro's long-distance display overshadowed a second-straight overall positive effort by the Vandals.

VCHS committed season-low 13 turnovers, in addition to executing its post-oriented offense as well as it has all season.

Cowger finished with a career-high 24 points and six rebounds, as the 6-foot-3 sophomore hit 8 of 9 field goals in the second half. Johnson also set a career high with 20 points, to go along with seven rebounds and five assists.

The Vandals have combined for just 23 turnovers and 120 points in their last two games. But they are still searching for their first win.

"We're getting better - there's no doubt we're getting better," Jackson said. "But we've got to get one in the win column. When that happens, things will get a little easier.

"I feel bad for the kids, because they're coming to practice every day and working hard. We really need to get one for their sake, for their mental state."

Saturday's Game

Carlinville 65, Vandalia 61

The Vandals' first victory appeared to be in sight after Cowger capped an 8-0 run third-quarter run with a 3-point play off a Dylan Durr feed, giving Vandalia a commanding 49-40 lead at the start of the fourth.

But the Vandals' nagging turnover issues - which had been absent all game long - suddenly resurfaced down the stretch, helping the Cavaliers rally for a win.

Vandalia finished with season-low 10 turnovers, but a pair of them came in the final 30 minute, helping Carlinville complete its comeback.

The Cavs' rally started with 16-6 run during the first 3:45 of the final frame, as they hit 6 of 7 from the field, including a game-tying layup off a Vandals turnover with 4:15 to go.

Vandalia initially responded well to losing its lead, as Brenden Wasmuth answered with a 3-pointer. The Vandals answered again after the Cavs tied the game at 59 with just under three minutes to go, as Austin Wollerman put Vandalia up 61-59 with a second-chance basket.

But the Vandals missed a pair of golden opportunities to extend their lead during their next two possessions - missing two point-blank shots and the front end of a one-and-one opportunity - enabling a Chris Walker putback to tie the game at 61 with a minute to go.

The Vandals still controlled their own destiny, however, and they worked the clock down to 30 seconds and took a timeout to set themselves up for a potential game-winning shot.

But Walker stole the ball with 11 seconds remaining and went in for a go-ahead layup. The Cavaliers then stole the Vandals ensuing inbounds pass, and Vandalia was called for an intentional foul, giving Carlinville a pair of free throw attempts and the ball out of bounds with just two seconds to go, all but sealing the game.

Though disappointed, Jackson understood his young team's crunch-time struggles.

"It's the first time we've been in that situation late in the game where we were ahead," Jackson said. "It's a little different being on the top end than being on the bottom end when you're trying to close one out. You play a little looser and go about things differently when you're behind.

"When you're ahead, you're trying to make sure you hang on to the ball and things like that. Unfortunately for the kids, it was just one of those things that did not go the way they wanted."

Prior to the fourth quarter, the Vandals were playing their best basketball of the season - especially on offense.

Wasmuth and Wollerman were particularly strong, finishing with career highs of 19 and 16 points, respectively. Wasmuth hit six 3-pointers, including a pair of fourth-quarter trifectas that temporarily staved off Carlinville's comeback.

Wollerman was 6 for 7 at the charity stripe and 5 of 8 from the field before fouling out with just under two minutes to go.

Both players' all-out hustle was even more impressive than their shooting.

Cowger scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half, doing most of his damage in the paint off Durr feeds. Durr finished with a season-high seven assists, while Mitch Johnson added eight points and seven rebounds despite foul trouble throughout.

Varsity Box Score

Carlinville 19 14 7 25 - 65

Vandalia 16 15 18 12 - 61

Vandalia scoring - Cowger 6-11 1-2 13, Wollerman 5-8 6-7 16, Mi. Johnson 4-11 0-0 8, Wasmuth 6-11 1-2 19, Durr 2-4 0-0 5, Bell 0-4 0-0 0, Ma. Johnson 0-1 0-0 0, Phillips 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-51 8-11 61.

3-point goals - Vandalia 7 (Wasmuth 6, Durr), Carlinville 7 (Chandler 4, Kirkland 3). Rebounds - Vandalia 22 (Mi. Johnson 7, Cowger 6), Carlinville 21 (Walker 8). Turnovers - Vandalia 10, Carlinville 13.

Friday's Game

Greenville 52, Vandalia 38

From the opening tip until the final buzzer, the effort was there for the Vandals.

Unfortunately, a pair of the rough stretches proved too much to overcome against the preseason SCC-East favorites.

Vandalia trailed by just two points, 18-16, late in the first half. But the Vandals committed nine turnovers in their final 10 possessions before intermission, helping Greenville close with a 10-2 run for a 28-18 lead.

The Vandals put together a valiant comeback attempt in the third quarter, as back-to-back 3-pointers by Durr and Bell capped a 9-0 run that cut the Comets' lead to just three, 30-27, halfway through the period.

But after a Cowger bucket at the 3:15 mark, Vandalia's offense suddenly turned ice cold. A pair of Mitch Johnson free throws at the 3:49 mark of the fourth quarter ended a scoreless drought of more than seven minutes, but too much damage had been done in between, as Greenville score 15 unanswered points to build a 47-31 lead.

The Vandals wound up missing 11 straight field goal attempts prior to a Durr 3-pointer in the closing two minutes.

"We just didn't score enough points," Jackson said. "But it was a very good effort by our guys. That's the No. 1 thing that we just talked to the kids about - if we get that effort on a nightly basis, we're going to beat some people."

Varsity Box Score

Greenville 11 17 8 16 - 52

Vandalia 10 8 11 9 - 38

Vandalia scoring - Mi. Johnson 3-10 3-5 9, Wasmuth 3-8 2-4 11, Bell 1-5 0-0 3, Wollerman 2-5 0-4 4, Cowger 2-6 1-2 5, Durr 2-4 0-0 6. Totals 13-38 FG 4-10 FT 38.

3-point goals - Vandalia 5 (Wasmuth 3, Durr 2, Bell), Greenville 3 (Dannaman 3). Rebounds - Vandalia 19 (Cowger 7, Mi. Johnson 5), Greenville 21. Turnovers - Vandalia 20, Greenville 14.