WESTFIELD TWP. — Once Buckeye’s boys basketball team gets this whole play-a-complete-game thing down, it’s going to very, very hard to beat.
In the meantime, the Bucks continue to win because they’ve figured out the other Rubik’s Cube known as a pressure-packed fourth quarter. Cloverleaf found out Tuesday as Buckeye pulled away 62-50 in non-league action.
“I don’t know how we keep winning,” Bucks forward Garrett Beck said with a grin. “It’s talent, I guess. We’re a full team.”
Beck (game-high 18 points) and point guard Cory Inman (14, 7 assists) readily acknowledged there’s a little bit of soul searching going on right now. They know their team is money in the bank when the score is close — it outscored Cloverleaf (3-10) 21-12 in the fourth — but allowing a 17-point halftime lead to almost slip away is completely unacceptable.
“We really have to get over that hump where we have to shut teams out,” Beck said without solicitation. “We can’t let them keep coming back with us.
“I think it’s a mindset. We start to coast once we get a lead, and it’s got to stop. We’ve got to start having more fun with a lead. We can’t just quit and think we’re going to walk out of here.”
Leading just 41-38 after three quarters, Buckeye refocused and put its pass-heavy offense into high gear. The Bucks (8-3) began the fourth on a 13-2 run behind six points, two assists and a steal from Inman and some help from Beck and center Jeff Miller (7 points, 9 rebounds).
Meanwhile, Cloverleaf lost its patience and missed 11 of its first 12 fourth-quarter shots. All-out, all-the-time guard Bishop Woodall (4 points, 2 steals, 2 assists), who keyed the Colts’ comeback, stopped the bleeding with a steal and score that made it 54-42, but it was too little, too late.
Buckeye closed the game making 11-of-14 free throws, including six straight by Inman.
“Coach (Matt) Saunders really gets on us every day in practice about that,” Inman said of free throw shooting. “It’s repetition over and over again and getting your routine down. I give a lot of credit to him. We do a great job when it comes to pressure time.”
For most of the second quarter, it appeared the Bucks were going to win via blowout for the first time this season after holding Cloverleaf to 1-of-10 shooting and receiving dominating post play from 6-foot-5 backup Chris Vogt (career-high 12 points).
“We knew he had it in him,” Beck said of Vogt.
The Colts regrouped at halftime, however, and made their move once Brandt Buckholz threw down a crowd-pleasing two-handed dunk and Woodall re-entered early in the third quarter.
Fueled by the 5-3 Woodall’s energy, Cloverleaf chipped away with hustle plays and transition points while Buckeye committed eight of its 13 turnovers during the quarter. Five straight points by Robby Buckwald (16 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks) capped an 11-0 run.
As quickly as things turned around for the Colts, they fell apart once Buckeye sped up the tempo and began to counter with its own aggressiveness. Cloverleaf panicked and began chucking without cause.
It was a disappointing finish to an otherwise admirable never-say-die effort.
“I thought we showed great effort and determination to cut the lead back down to three,” first-year coach Marty Ryan said. “From that point, we started forcing shots and we lost our patience. We got a little excited and missed a shot three possessions in a row and got back down nine in a hurry.”
When Connor Ploucha stepped to the free throw line with 29 seconds remaining in the game, he was announced as “Pat Ploucha.” Pat Ploucha is Connor’s father and was Gazette MVP in 1982, when he led the Colts to a school-record 20 wins.
Cloverleaf made 12-of-13 free throws (.923), while the Bucks finished 13-of-17 (.765).
Buckeye band director Greg King hit nothing but net on a half-court shot at halftime.
Robert Miller had 21 points as the Buckeye junior varsity won 62-50. Dillon Mullins had 11 for the Colts.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.