Vandalia’s boys basketball team had its best offensive game of the year Tuesday, hitting 50 percent from the floor and 74 percent from the foul line on its way to a season-high 67 points.
Unfortunately, the Vandals had one of their worst defensive nights as well.
The combination led to another frustratingly close defeat, as Vandalia dropped its 10th game by 10 points or fewer this season, falling to visiting Hillsboro, 74-67.
‘We just gave up way too many points,’ said VCHS coach Kevin Jackson. ‘Seventy-four points? That’s not us. We can’t win basketball games giving up 74 points.’
The Hiltoppers did, indeed, score seemingly at will throughout much of the game, hitting 55 percent from the field (28 of 51), which enabled them to overcome a pair of Vandalia comebacks from double-digit deficits.
But Vandalia’s shooting percentage would have been in the same ballpark if not for a number of missed bunnies and shots that basically did everything but fall through the net.
Vandalia had no fewer than seven such misses that, ironically – on such a strong offensive night – kept it from overcoming its defensive deficiencies.
Case in point: After Marty Johnson hit back-to-back 3-pointer to spark a sudden 13-4 run that cut an 11-point deficit to just two with a little more than two minutes to go, unfriendly home rims kept the Vandals from getting over the hump.
After a Brenden Wasmuth 3-pointer trimmed Hillsboro’s lead to 63-61 with 2:05 remaining, the Vandals had a chance to tie or take the lead after Hillsboro coughed the ball up on its ensuing possession.
But a Marty Johnson 3-point attempt rimmed out, and Mitch Johnson’s putback try did the same, bouncing around the rim for what seemed to be an eternity before falling into Hillsboro’s hands.
Adding insult to injury, Will Cowger was whistled for his fifth foul going for a rebound, and Ryan Reincke hit a pair of free throws to put Hillsboro up 65-61.
Vandalia missed another shot from point-blank range on its next possession, and the Hiltoppers converted two more free throws for a 67-61 lead.
Dylan Durr answered with a bucket, but – as was the case all too often throughout the night – Hillsboro was able to answer right back with a bucket that came a little too easily in Jackson’s eyes.
‘I just wasn’t thrilled with our defensive intensity,’ Jackson said. ‘We did not play basketball tonight the way we are capable of playing it and the way we need to play it to be successful.’
The Vandals were also plagued by 22 turnovers, as Hillsboro racked up 23 points off takeaways.
‘That’s way too many turnovers,’ Jackson said. ‘We’re not going to win basketball games playing defensively the way we did and turning it over 22 times.’
A turnover led to the bucket that put Hillsboro up for good, as Cody McCoy literally stole the momentum away from Vandalia with a fast-break score seconds after Drew Bell hit a pair of free throws to put the Vandals up 40-39.
Bell’s go-ahead free throw completed a comeback from an 11-point halftime deficit, and were preceded by a couple of technical fouls on Hillsboro that seemed to signal it was gonna be Vandalia’s night.
But instead of getting frustrated, the Hiltoppers got fired up by the controversial T’s, as the visiting team embarked on an 18-4 run that had them leading by 13 midway through the final quarter.
The Johnson brothers suddenly got Vandalia back in the game, however, as Mitch scored back-to-back buckets and assisted on another to cut Hillsboro’s lead to single digits before Marty hit a pair of 3s to set up an intense final three minutes.
Mitch finished with 14 points and five rebounds for the Vandals (2-19), while Marty scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half. Wasmuth added 14 points, and Austin Wollerman chipped in nine, in addition to sparking both Vandalia comebacks with his all-out effort.
‘Did we do some things right? We certainly did, otherwise we wouldn’t have put 67 points on the board,’ Jackson said. ‘But at the same time, we didn’t do the things we needed to do to win the basketball game.
‘At some point in time, we’re going to have to learn. We’ve got 10 of these 12 (varsity players) back, and I expect much better results next year. If that’s gonna happen, we’ve got to learn some lessons this year.’
The JV Vandals picked up their fifth win of the year in the preliminary contest, rolling to a 44-27 win over the Hiltoppers.
Hillsboro 17 16 16 25 – 74
Vandalia 12 17 15 23 – 67
Vandalia scoring – Wasmuth 5-10 3-4 14, Cowger 3-6 0-0 6, Mi. Johnson 6-11 2-4 12, Wollerman 2-5 5-6 9, Bell 1-6 3-4 4, Ma. Johnson 4-7 2-2 12, Durr 3-3 0-2 8. Totals 24-48 14-19 67.