Mohawk nips Upper Sandusky
SYCAMORE — In front of a standing-room only crowd, Mohawk coach Paul Dunn knew the run was coming.
Upper Sandusky found itself down 10 points in the fourth quarter before junior Cameron McCreary caught fire.
McCreary nearly brought the Rams back himself, but the Warriors held on at the end for a key 59-58 Northern 10 Conference win Thursday night.
“We told them at halftime that (Upper Sandusky) was going to make a run,” Dunn said. “We had to be able to withstand it. Watching these guys play, there is a lot of teams that I would have called timeout when they cut it to three. But, I told these guys during the scouting report that I have so much confidence in these guys that they can withstand a run like that against a good team.”
Mohawk, ranked No. 12 in the initial Division IV poll, finishes the first half of its schedule undefeated at 11-0 including 7-0 inside the N10. Upper Sandusky falls to 9-3, 6-1 — one full game ahead of Carey (6-4, 4-2) in the league standings.
“(The Rams) play tempo a lot, but I don’t know if they play teams that always want to push it against them,” Dunn said. “We started to get out and run and I think it almost shook them for a quick second.”
Mohawk’s win over Upper Sandusky is its first over the Rams since a 54-31 win Feb. 20, 2010. Upper Sandusky had won the last 11 meetings by an average of 24.8 points per game.
“It has been a long time, I know that,” Dunn said. “When (Keith) Diebler was there, we sure as heck did not beat them often either. If you want to knock off and compete for a league title, you have to go through Upper Sandusky. That has been proven the last couple years.”
Mohawk watched its lead dwindle down to 57-54 with two minutes remaining and then the Warriors committed an intentional foul against Mason Vent. He split the free throws before the teams exchanged turnovers. After a Mohawk timeout, a jump ball gave the Rams possession with 1:10 left.
Upper Sandusky worked the clock and the ball around before Evan Young missed a shot with 45 seconds left.
Keith Jenkins — scoreless to that point — was fouled and calmly made both free throws. McCreary missed a 3-pointer, but Trevor Clifford grabbed the rebound. Eventually, McCreary hit a 3 with about three seconds left. After an Upper Sandusky timeout, Zach Hayman was fouled with 1.1 seconds left. He missed the front end of the 1-and-1, but the desperation heave by the Rams was no where near good, allowing Mohawk a key victory.
“For me, I really wanted to win this game,” Hayman said. “I have never beaten Upper Sandusky. We, as a team, had never beaten Upper Sandusky since I have been playing varsity basketball.”
The Rams often found open looks from 3, facing Mohawk’s 2-3 zone defense. Upper Sandusky shot 35 3s, connecting on 10.
“We have good shooters that are shooting good at some point,” Upper Sandusky coach Jeff Winslow said. “We just have not found our stride shooting. These kids have shot well their whole life. Shooting can be like that.”
The Warriors picked up where they left off in the second quarter during the first two-plus minutes of the third quarter. Kaiden Hammer recorded a steal and layup before Hayman hit a 3 from the left side. He then assisted on a bucket by Brock Brause, extending the Mohawk lead to 35-25 as the Rams called timeout.
Levi Malone drilled a 3 and Evan Young scored off a steal in just six seconds to slice the lead in half, but the Warriors did not fade. Hammer’s triple from the right side, coupled with a bucket from Brause after one of Upper Sandusky’s 13 turnovers, pushed the lead back to double digits.
The Rams drew back within four points after five straight points from Clifford, but Chris Klopp scored down low to give Mohawk a 46-40 lead after three quarters.
“Zach is really, really good at attacking the basket,” Dunn said. “There is no doubt and everybody knows that. At times, he gets those blinders on and we told him he has to trust his teammates tonight.”
Hayman — the league’s leader in steals per game at 3.9 picks a game — poked a steal away and laid it in to open the fourth quarter scoring. He added a baseline jumper as the Mohawk lead again ballooned to double digits.
McCreary took over not long after. Trailing 53-43, his consecutive 3s — one from the right and one from the left — sliced the lead to 53-49 with 4:40 left.
After Hayman scored for the Warriors, McCreary again was good from 3-point range, getting Upper Sandusky within three points for the first time since halftime. Hayman responded with a pull-up foul line jumper, but a jumper in the lane by Vent kept the Rams within three points.
“We wanted to do a great job of hopefully limiting them to one shot per possession,” Dunn said. “We did not do that very well in the fourth quarter. When they get in the paint, they shot-fake the ball better than any team we have ever seen.”
Upper Sandusky jumped out early on the Warriors. A 3-pointer from McCreary and scores from Vent and Malone opened a 15-11 lead after eight minutes.
In the second quarter, Clifford split two free throws after one of Mohawk’s 10 turnovers before a layup by Vent forced Dunn into a timeout.
But, the Warriors responded. Hammer scored off an offensive rebound and then assisted Hayman on a bucket. Hayman then hit a baseline jumper to cut the lead to one point.
Later, trailing 22-19, Mohawk went to work again, this time in lightning fashion. Hammer hit a 3 to tie the game and later, Brause scored on a putback for the lead. Hayman scored off of a Rams’ turnover and Brause added a bucket off of an offensive rebound for a 28-22 lead.
“We just decided to turn the ball over,” Winslow said. “It gave them life. They went on a turnover, rebound spree at the end. They just played better than us from then on.”
The Rams got a bit of the onslaught back as Brett Montgomery hit a 3 just before the half, cutting the Mohawk lead to 28-25 at halftime.
“That run definitely gave our guys confidence,” Dunn said. “We were not shooting the ball with confidence in the first half. That really calmed us down going into halftime.”
McCreary finished with 19 points and five rebounds. Vent added nine points and a team-high eight rebounds. The Rams shot just four four throws.
“I liked our effort in the second half after the first two minutes of the third quarter,” Winslow said. “Other than that, they out-played us.”
Hayman, who entered the night third in the league in scoring at 19.7 points per game, paced the Warriors with 24 points.
“The difference in the game is they have Zach Hayman and we don’t,” Winslow said. “He is the best player in the league right now. Until someone decides to stop him, they are going to win every game. It is easier said than done.”
Hammer added 12 points for Mohawk. When asked to guess who the game’s leading rebounder was, Hammer pointed to his teammate, Klopp, who had seven rebounds. However, Hammer was the correct answer, nabbing 11 rebounds to finish off a big double-double.
“A big thing that coach was telling us going into this game, and even at halftime reminded us, was that with two good teams playing like this, there is going to be multiple runs,” Hammer said. “The biggest thing was we had to limit what they could do on their runs.”
The Rams find themselves in a similar situation to last year. Last season, they lost a non-conference road game to Shelby before a conference road game to Carey. Upper Sandusky then won 16 of its next 17 games.
“They do a really good job in that 2-3 zone,” Winslow said. “Not a whole lot of teams play zone anymore, so you do not see it as often. They do a really good job.”