Vandalia boys basketball coach Kevin Jackson asked his team to do three things Tuesday night in its SCC East Division contest at Pana: defend, rebound and execute on offense.
The Vandals followed through on the game plan to a T.
As a result, Vandalia not only avenged a disappointing loss to Pana at its own holiday tournament, the Vandals (11-10, 5-2) took a major step toward securing a No. 2 seed at their upcoming regional, which will be held on the same floor in which they rolled to their third-straight double-digit conference victory, 50-36, over the beleaguered Panthers.
"I’m really proud of our guys," said Jackson, whose team moved to 5-2 in true road games this season. "This is a tough place to win. That was a nice win and a great effort."
The final stats certainly support Jackson’s assessment.
The Vandals held Pana (11-8, 3-2) to 30 percent shooting from the floor (14 of 46), including 1 of 10 shooting during a second quarter in which Vandalia took control with an 11-2 advantage.
Vandalia also outrebounded a bigger and more athletic team by nearly a 2-1 margin, easily winning the battle of the boards, 28-15.
And not only did the Vandals hit their free throws, connecting on 21 of 27 attempts (78 percent) – they did so when it mattered most, connecting on 8 of 11 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, helping put the Panthers away after a desperate comeback attempt.
It all added up to perhaps the most satisfying win of the season for Vandalia, which suddenly finds itself all alone in second place in the SCC-East following Greenville’s win over Staunton Tuesday.
"We beat a pretty good basketball team tonight," said Jackson of Pana, which had won eight of its last 10 games.
The Vandals took the lead for good midway through the second quarter after a pair of Will Cowger free throws gave them a 15-13 advantage. They went on to score the final eight points of the first half, taking a 21-13 lead into halftime.
Marty Johnson started the third quarter in style, giving Vandalia its first double-digit lead with a nifty spin move in the post, and the sophomore finished the quarter with a dagger, hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Vandals a commanding 12-point lead, 38-26, heading into the final frame.
Pana finally found some offensive life in fourth quarter, as Derek Ade 3-pointers cut the Vandals lead to seven on two occasions, the latter coming with just under three minutes remaining.
But Pana’s next two three-point attempts were off the mark, and Vandalia pulled away in the final two minutes by on 7 of 8 free-throw attempts.
"That’s doing what you need to do from the line," Jackson said.
Senior Austin Wollerman was especially impressive from the charity stripe, hitting 11 of 13 attempts on his way to a 17-point night. The 5-foot-10 Wollerman did his usual admirable work inside against much bigger adversaries, adding seven rebounds.
Johnson also grabbed seven rebounds and pumped in 17 points, including 10 third-quarter tallies. He started the game by dishing out three first-quarter assists.
Will Cowger added 10 points inside.
Drew Bell scored just four points, but his contribution on the defensive end was instrumental to the VCHS win. The 6-1 senior held Pana leading scorer Frank Schmitz to 17 points – all of which were hard earned. Schmitz came into the game averaging more than 20 points per contest.
"Drew didn’t score quite as much again – but what an effort defensively," Jackson said.
"Defensively, I thought we did great tonight. We defended and we rebounded, but we didn’t execute real well in the first half. That picked up in the second half a little bit."
The Vandals will go for their fourth win in a row Friday at home against Staunton.
The Vandals (4-6) came back a 12-point halftime deficit to shock the Panthers, 53-51, and inch closer to the .500 mark.
Pana looked to be on its way to a rout early, as it led 25-13 after one quarter. The Panthers maintained that big lead throughout the second quarter, but the Vandals owned the second half.
Justin Rubin led three Vandals in double figures with 16 points, while Daniel Bell added 15 and Nathan Henna had 10. Bryan Hosick chipped in five big points in the fourth quarter.
Vandalia 59, Hillsboro 39
In an odd way, in keeping Christian County, Ky., from participating in the Third Annual First National Bank/Hosick Motors Shootout, Mother Nature finally allowed the Vandals and Hiltoppers to hook up.
Christian County couldn’t make it to the shootout for its scheduled game against Champaign Central due to recent severe ice storms in Kentucky.
Instead, the Vandals’ scheduled opponent, Metro East Lutheran, volunteered to play Champaign Central, allowing Hillsboro and Vandalia to get in a conference game that had twice been postponed due to winter weather.
The Vandals led wire-to-wire against the struggling Hiltoppers (3-18), racing out to a 6-0 lead and never looking back.
Game MVP Marty Johnson was a one-man zone buster in the early going, hitting four of five three-point attempts in the opening 10 minutes of the game on his way to a team-high 14 points.
The Hiltoppers managed to hang tough with the Vandals throughout the first half, as they trailed by just five points, 26-21, at halftime, but a 10-3 run to start the second half put the Vandals in charge for good.
Drew Bell capped the run with a three-point play that gave Vandalia a 36-24 advantage with five minutes to go in the third, and VCHS’s bench helped the host team pull away late.
Angel Osorio scored the first six points of the fourth quarter, pushing the Vandals’ lead out to 20 points, 48-28. He finished with eight points, two steals and two assists in limited duty.
Seldom-used senior Andy Koonce then stole the show in the fourth quarter, scoring seven points in a span of 40 seconds on a 3-pointer, two free throws and a shot inside.
The 6-foot-3 forward also grabbed two rebounds before exiting the game to chants of "MVP, MVP."
All told, the Vandalia bench produced 16 points in its strongest effort of the year.
Dylan Durr grabbed four more steals in the winning effort, scoring a season-high 10 points, to boot.
Vandalia enjoyed a considerable rebounding edge, 22-17, and connected on 12 of 15 free-throw attempts (80 percent).
Vandalia 52, Litchfield 36
It took the Vandals a little while to shake off the rust from a two-week layoff, but they had little trouble completing a season sweep of the Purple Panthers once they got going in the second quarter.
The Vandals were shaky in the opening frame, committing five turnovers and converting just 4 of 8 free throws, but they still trailed by just two points, 11-9, after eight minutes of play.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Johnson got the Vandals going midway through the second quarter, and they wound up taking a 26-18 lead into the locker room.
Another Johnson 3-pointer pushed Vandalia’s lead to double digits early in the third quarter, and 4 of 5 shooting from the field and 3 of 3 shooting from the foul line in the frame had Vandalia enjoying a 16-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Litchfield wound up scoring just three points in the third quarter, and Vandalia outscored the Purple Panthers 29-10 in the middle two quarters of the game.
Litchfield put 15 points on the board in the fourth, but the Vandals were in complete control, extending their lead to as many as 20 points.
Litchfield (12-11, 2-5) wound up shooting just 32 percent from the floor (11 of 34), combining for just 56 points in two games against the Vandals.
Vandalia wound up hitting 10 of 17 field goals in the second half and 18 of 33 for the game (55 percent).
"The second, third and fourth quarters, we played well defensively," Jackson said. "That got us moving offensively."
Cowger led three Vandals in double figures with 15 points. He also pulled down seven rebounds.
"On a whole, I thought Will was a little bit more aggressive tonight," Jackson said. "That’s a positive. That’s something we’re going to need out of him."
Johnson’s three-point barrage gave him 12 points, while Drew Bell added 11.
Seven players registered in the scoring column for Vandalia.
"We had good performances up and down the board," Jackson said. "We’re very pleased overall with the effort tonight."
The JV Vandals also rolled to a double-digit win, 55-45.
Drew Stewart led the way with 14 points, while Daniel Bell had 11. Rubin chipped in 10.