GRANGER TWP. — Highland boys basketball coach Michael Murphy loved the way his team nearly pulled off a miraculous comeback, while Westlake’s Shawn Hood was very pleased with the aggressiveness the Demons displayed in building a monstrous lead.
In a rare game where both coaches left the gym feeling positive, the end result was a 79-72 non-league victory for the Demons on Friday.
Down 68-45 with 7:31 to go in the game, the Hornets (5-2) got within two points with 15.5 seconds left before Westlake (8-0) finally put them away.
“Hat’s off to them,” Murphy said. “They knocked everything down early. We finally got three stops together and made a couple shots, and you could see it in the kids’ faces: The old-fashioned momentum swing was going our way.”
Unfortunately for Highland, it trailed 25-11 after one period, 48-29 at the half and 66-45 after three quarters, which proved to be a bit too much to overcome.
Westlake’s 6-foot-9 Gavin Skelly, who will continue his career at Northwestern, was the biggest reason for the Demons’ dominance. Despite playing the equivalent of three quarters due to foul trouble — he exited for good with two minutes left — Skelly finished with 27 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals.
“And he didn’t even play well,” Hood said with a smile.
Skelly, who helped his team finish with a whopping 50-33 advantage on the boards, was at his best in the first half, putting up 19 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
“He’s a different type of big guy,” Murphy said. “He does a really good job of controlling his body and he’s got a smooth jumper. Every time he had a look at it, he put it down. He’s a really nice player — by far the best player we’ve played against.”
When the Hornets tried to double Skelly, he passed over the top to wide-open teammates cutting to the basket or ready to shoot from behind the 3-point line. The Demons made seven 3-pointers over the first three quarters, with Joe Hadib-Nissan (14 points, 8 rebounds), Andris Balodis (10 points) and Makis Beach (8 points) hitting two apiece and Danny Slavik (9 points) adding one.
Combine the sizzling shooting with defensive pressure and great rebounding — center Cameron Brown had eight boards and three assists — and the Demons seemed headed for a blowout when two Skelly free throws put them up 23 early in the fourth period.
Problem was, Westlake kept attacking, took some bad shots, missed some good ones and started throwing the ball away. That allowed Highland, which got 25 points and nine rebounds from center Brogan Scott and 16 points and seven boards from power forward Alec Withers, to go on a 13-0 run to get within 10 with 5:42 to go.
“I made them play ultra aggressive,” Hood said. “That is our style. It’s difficult to back them off of that. I probably haven’t done enough situational stuff in practice, but it’s so hard to get kids from the suburbs to be ultra aggressive. That’s more important to me than the one or two games you get like this.
“What I’m saying is I liked the up 20 part more than I didn’t like the way we played in the fourth quarter.”
Highland extended its run to 21-4 to get within 72-66 on a steal and hoop by Kevin Greenhoe with 3:19 remaining.
The Hornets had a chance to get closer after Scott grabbed a defensive rebound, but the junior was called for throwing an elbow with 2:54 to go.
After a huddle, the officials ruled it an intentional foul because they said the elbow was delivered to the head, giving Westlake two shots and the ball. Anthony Trujillo (9 points, 8 rebounds) missed both free throws, but Skelly scored with 2:27 on the clock to put the Demons up eight.
“It wasn’t an elbow,” Murphy said. “Brogan got shoved one way and when he got up, the kid was in his space and they had a collision. In my opinion, it’s a no-call.”
Highland eventually got within two when point guard Tanner Houska (8 points, 6 assists) hit a pair of free throws with 15.5 seconds remaining, but Balodis calmly drained a pair with 10.6 ticks on the clock to make it a four-point game.
The Hornets came up empty on their next possession and Westlake’s undefeated record remained intact.
“Like I told the kids in the locker room, it’s great to have a comeback and make it a game, but don’t forget the whole we dug,” Murphy said.
“They brought the fight to us and made shots,” he added. “We could have rolled over and lost by 40 and left with a quiet gym, so it was definitely a good way to end it.”
|In addition to the intentional foul called on Scott, Highland also received a technical for not having reserve center Tyler Frederick entered in the scorebook. Houska also got a “T” for cursing with 1:31 left in the third period, but the Hornets responded with their 13-0 run with him on the bench.
l Highland lost the junior varsity game 47-38 despite 13 points from Collin Levandowski. Jack Plaza had 12 for Westlake.
l Highland won the freshman game 53-52 in overtime behind 29 points from Andrew Earnest. Noah Meek led the Demons with 17.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or email@example.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.
Westlake 79, Highland 72
WESTLAKE 25 23 18 13 — 79
HIGHLAND 11 18 16 27 — 72
Westlake — Joe Hadib-Nissan 4-4-14, Gavin Skelly 11-5-27, Cameron Brown 0-0-0, Conner Meek 0-2-2, Makis Beach 3-0-8, Danny Slavik 4-0-9, Anthony Trujillo 3-3-9, Andris Balodis 2-4-10, Josh Gibson 0-0-0. TOTALS: 27-18-79.
Highland — Alex Wood 2-1-7, Alec Withers 5-5-16, Brogan Scott 9-5-25, Ben Hauser 3-1-8, Tanner Houska 2-4-8, Coltin Kinsey 0-0-0, Billy Kirchner 0-0-0, Zach Levine 0-2-2, Kevin Greenhoe 1-0-2, Tyler Frederick 2-0-4. TOTALS: 24-18-72.
3-point goals — Beach 2, Baladis 2, Hadib-Nissan 2, Slavik, Scott 2, Wood 2, Hauser, Withers. Rebounds — Westlake 50 (Skelly 16), Highland 33 (Scott 9). Assists — Westlake 15 (Skelly 4), Highland 13 (Houska 6). Records — Westlake (8-0), Highland (5-2). Junior varsity — Westlake 47, Highland 39.