WOOSTER — Consider the lesson learned.
The nightmares of a fourth-quarter collapse against Lutheran West are long gone. The Buckeye boys basketball team is now finishing games like a champ.
A key seldom-used adjustment was in order Saturday at the WQKT/Steve Smith Classic, and the Bucks rode a 2-3 zone defense to pull away from Smithville 56-49 at the College of Wooster’s Timken Gymnasium.
Not known for their defense — they entered play allowing 61.6 points per game — the Bucks (4-2) held the Smithies (5-2) to six points on 2-of-14 shooting in the fourth quarter until Alex Bates (game-high 18 points) hit a meaningless 3-pointer in the closing seconds.
It marked the second straight game Buckeye sparkled in the second half after it took down Wellington on Tuesday.
“Down the stretch, I thought we defended really well,” coach Matt Saunders said. “The zone obviously hurt them. They hurt us with that down screen, step in and sealing us, so we made an adjustment and it worked out for us.”
Using a three-pronged attack of forwards Bates and Issac Callender (11 points) and center Jimmy Pew (13), the Smithies continuously attacked the rim against the Bucks’ man-to-man defense and roared back from a 10-point second-quarter deficit.
Buckeye’s offense had a lot to do with the comeback by missing its first 10 shots of the third quarter, and Callender gave Smithville a short-lived 39-38 until the Bucks’ Garrett Beck (12 points, 9 rebounds) took it away with a bucket in traffic that snapped a 6-minute field-goal drought.
Buckeye extended its lead to 45-41 on a 3-pointer by center Jeff Miller (13 points, 11 rebounds) early in the fourth quarter. That’s when Saunders turned the tide for good.
The 2-3 zone took away many of Smithville’s previous driving lanes and relegated it to outside shooting. The results spoke for themselves, as the Smithies bricked four straight 3-pointers — they made just one of their first 10 attempts overall — along with clanging a couple midrange jumpers.
This fueled Buckeye’s outstanding transition offense to perfection, as Matt Cox (team-high 14 points) scored six straight Bucks points to essentially put the game away.
“Coach pretty much pulled us aside at the end of the (third) quarter and yelled at us a little bit,” Cox said. “It got the jitters out, I think, and we dropped back into a 2-3 zone. We don’t like doing that — we like to stick with man — but it helped.”
The first half was wildly entertaining, as Buckeye pushed the tempo and did little wrong en route to making 15-of-28 shots. Cory Inman (7 points, 5 assists) was directing the show with precision in a heavier role due to Ryan Grauel (2 points, 3 assists, 3 steals) being under the weather, and Cox, Miller and Beck were owning glass as the Bucks finished with a 42-20 rebounding edge.
Smithville kept things respectable, though, with off-balance jumpers, post moves and quick passing within 12 feet of the rim. Bates, Callender and Pew combined for 25 of the Smithies’ 30 first-half points and continued to capitalize thanks to good ball control (7 turnovers, including 0 in fourth quarter).
Momentum was temporarily seized by Smithville with a 9-0 run to begin the third quarter, but Buckeye had the last laugh with one more trick in its bag — the 2-3 zone.
“Coming off two previous losses earlier in the season, it feels good to get back on a roll,” Miller said.
Inman, who is not even 6-foot, was announced as 6-7, which drew big laughs from Inman and the Buckeye faithful.
• Medina County schools improved to 4-2 at the WQKT/Steve Smith Classic since it was instituted in 2004.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.