The Vandalia Community High School boys basketball team kicked off the season against South Central last Tuesday night. The Vandals came out strong, but failed to hang onto a fourth quarter lead en route to a 63-59 Cougar victory in overtime.
The Vandals opened the game strong, as they took an early 7-0 lead thanks to a three-point play from freshman Devon Little, and a pair of put-backs by Kelly Jones and Nathan Casey.
South Central senior Dre Hill gave the Cougars their first points on a layup inside. A pair of free throws from Brett Harmeier cut the Vandal lead to 7-4 midway through the first quarter.
Vandalia closed out the first on a 6-1 run to go into the second quarter with a 13-8 lead.
South Central’s Caleb Harpster opened up the second with a layup, assisted by Hill. But, the Vandals countered, going on a 12-0 run to take a commanding 22-10 lead.
Both teams went back and forth, as a last second layup by Jones gave the Vandals a 29-20 lead going into the second half. Jones had a team-high nine points in the first half.
Harmeier and Jonathan Arnold opened up the third quarter with back-to-back layups to bring the Cougars within five. Vandalia junior Richie Well answered with a three-pointer and layup in transition to start a 9-0 run, giving the Vandals a 38-24 lead halfway through the third quarter.
A three-pointer from Vandal sophomore Nathan Casey helped them pull away to a 44-29 lead, Vandalia’s largest lead of the game. Harmeier was able to hit a three at the end of the quarter to cut the lead to 44-33 heading into the fourth quarter.
South Central’s Logan Lotz scored his only points of the game on a three-pointer to open up the fourth quarter, cutting the Vandal lead to single digits. The Cougars continued their fourth quarter comeback, capping off a 15-0 run with a pair of free throws from Hill to give South Central a 48-44 lead.
Well managed to pick up the Vandals first points of the fourth quarter on a baseline three with 1:58 left to play, dropping the Cougar lead to 48-47. Well came up clutch once again, knocking down another three-pointer to give the Vandals a two-point lead.
Hill tied the game on a pair of free throws with just 37 seconds to play, but Casey answered, scoring on a layup to give the Vandals the late two-point lead. However, Hill continued his strong second half, scoring on a layup with five seconds left to tie the game and force overtime.
Hill, who managed only four points in the first half, led the second-half comeback with 15 points.
“We expect that. He got in foul trouble early and was taken out of the game. Second half, I just basically told him he had three fouls at halftime, so you can’t get a fourth, if you have to give up a point, give up a point so you’re there at the end,” South Central head coach Rick Simmons said. “That’s what he did, he played smart. Reality is that he just stepped up like a senior should.”
The Cougars carried their fourth-quarter comeback into overtime, as Harmeier hit a three-pointer to give them a 55-52 lead. South Central extended its lead to 61-56 with less than a minute to play.
Well would knock down a three-pointer from the baseline to bring Vandalia within two with 18 seconds left, but South Central was able to hang on en route to a 63-59 victory.
Simmons commented on his team’s ability to come back late and pick up the win in the season opener.
“I think it really started when we came out in the third quarter. We put up a tremendous defensive stand for a while,” Simmons said. “The momentum, we carried it on. We had to work hard for everything we got. I’m not sure how we did that with Hill fouling out, because he led the charge there for a while, but we managed to hang in there. That’s what its all about. “
Harmeier finished with a team-high 20 points in the Cougars win, with 12 coming in the second half.
“That’s exactly what I expect. I took him out, because he was just kind of forcing some things up there and told him, 'you're better than that; just play your game,'” Simmons said. “He’s very good at dishing the ball off, and if he can get a set shot, his chances of making it are pretty good. You can’t say enough about senior leadership stepping up in the big moments. Credit goes to the kids. “
Other scorers for South Central were Dre Hill, with 19; Arnold, with eight; Trevor Markley, with five; Harpster, with four; Ryan Matheny, with four; and Lotz, with three.
Vandalia head coach Brian Buscher commented on his team’s inability to close out the game.
“We played three good quarters. Honestly, we didn’t hit a ton of shots. Our shooters weren’t hitting a whole lot but that’s okay, you have to learn how to play,” Buscher said. “All in all, especially towards the end, in that fourth quarter, it got to be like one-on-one. What do we do? I’m staring at someone instead of run a motion offense; run a screen. I hope it’s the lack of experience there, I hope being sophomores, juniors and freshman they will learn.
“South Central played their butt off and beat us. I don’t want to take anything away from them. Coach Simmons is a great coach. We didn’t execute some things offensively and defensively how we wanted to, guard the block screen. But we will get better. “
Despite the loss, Buscher did take away some positives from the loss.
“We were playing good straight man-man-man and being aggressive. We were getting rebounds, which we have been focusing on. There are a lot of good things. We executed some plays and at times we didn’t. They played well together, but it was just kind of a deer in the headlights in the last quarter.”
Well finished with a team-high 22 points, shooting 6-of-13 from beyond the arc, along with four assists and two rebounds. Other contributors for Vandalia were Jones, with 11 points, three assists and nine rebounds; Casey, with 10 points and two rebounds; Garrett McNary, with seven points, five assists and four rebounds; and Little, with five points, two assists and six rebounds.
Buscher explained his reason for starting the freshman forward.
“I thought he (Little) did a great job. He has to get better defensively as far as rotation. He got some rebounds and that’s our key focus,” Buscher said. “That was the thinking in starting him; I thought he gave us the best chance to go get rebounds.”