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Vandalia comes back from down 10 at half to win, 40-38

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By Jonathan Stark

Last Friday night, the Vandalia boys basketball team opened up its season at home with an nail-bitter of a game. The edge-of-your-seat action came down to the final second and pair of free throws by Will Cowger to clinch Vandalia’s 40-38 win over East Alton-Wood River.

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Vandalia was able to get off to a good start in the first quarter, as the Vandals built a 9-5 lead halfway through the first. However, the shooting went cold and Wood River started forcing turnovers and getting second-chance opportunities on offense. Vandalia was held scoreless for more than six minutes at the end of the first and the start of the second quarter. During that time, Wood River went on an 11-0 run to take a 16-9 lead. Angel Osorio was able to break the run with a two-point jumper with just over five minutes remaining in the second quarter.

Vandalia scored just one more basket in the quarter, a two-pointer by Marty Johnson around the two-minute mark, to make it a 21-13 game. Wood River led 23-13 at the intermission.

The Vandals' offense came alive after the break. Tim Ritchey hit an early free throw to get the scoring rolling. Cowger, who was scoreless in the first half, had five points in the third. Johnson rattled off six has he nailed two threes. Osorio capped off the dynamic third quarter by hitting a jumper from the top of the key at the buzzer, pulling Vandalia within two at 31-29.

With six minutes left in the game, the Vandals were down three. Osorio was fouled on a two-point shot that went in and was able to tie the game at 32-32 with the free throw shot.

Vandalia took its first lead since the two-minute mark in the first half on a pair of free throws by Daniel Bell with 5:32 remaining.

Cowger scored the next four points for Vandalia, pushing the lead to 38-33 with less than four minutes to go.

The game would go down to the final seconds, as Wood River went on a 5-0 run to tie the game at 38-38.

Vandalia had the ball with less than a minute to go. Coach Kevin Jackson let the clock run down to 14 seconds before calling a timeout. Out of the timeout, Vandalia worked the ball down low to Cowger. He put up a shot in the paint and was fouled with 3.8 seconds remaining. He knocked down both shots with ease, giving the Vandals a 40-38 lead.

Wood River inbounded the ball and was able to get a contested shot off from 25 feet away. The shot missed and hit off the backboard as time expired, giving Vandalia the narrow win.

Cowger scored Vandalia’s final six points of the game and six of the team's 11 in the fourth quarter. He finished with 11 on the night. Johnson had 13, knocking down three of his eight three-point attempts. Osorio had nine points. Jackson said that hopefully, the scoring from the “big three” will continue, and Vandalia needs it to continue in order to win.

Vandalia outscored Wood River 27-15 in the second half.

“[In the second half], we took away (Wood River’s) middle dribble drive,” Jackson said. “We were more aggressive, we pushed the pace a little bit more and we got moving. Not a lot of genius coaching. They played with more intensity and a little more drive.”

Bryan Hosick had a team-high five rebounds and Johnson and Cowger each had four. Vandalia committed 12 turnovers, its second-lowest total of the season, “that’s the range you can win at,” Jackson said. Vandalia had more than 20 turnovers in its three losses this season and 12 or less in its wins. 

The Vandals shot 38 percent for the night (13-for-34), Wood River was 13-for-31 (42 percent). Vandalia’s defense held Wood River to only eight second-half shots; it made four. Wood River was 12-for-15 from the free-throw line; Vandalia was 11-for-13.

Vandalia is at home again this Friday as it hosts Greenville. The junior varsity will play at 6:15 p.m., with varsity to follow.

This past week, Vandalia lost a third varsity player, as Matt Hoffman, walked away from the team. Drew Stewart left the team right before the year started, and Nathan Henna broke his forearm in the Red/White game. The loss of Hoffman depletes the junior varsity squad, and several varsity players will now play at both levels.