CENTERVILLE – Fairmont had just made the run it needed – the one Centerville wanted to prevent. A nine-point Elks’ lead entering the fourth quarter was down to one point with four minutes left.
The veteran Elks, the ones who stuck together to win a Division I state championship last March, huddled around head coach Brook Cupps at the game’s critical moment.
“He just told us to trust each other, and that’s kind of how we got through it,” Elks senior Tom House said.
The unbeaten Elks got through it with an 11-0 run to close the game for a 48-36 victory Tuesday night and hand the Firebirds their first defeat.
“We’re just a really close team, and that really helps because we spend a lot of time together off the court,” House said. “That helps us when it’s tight like that and teams are playing well and we’re not playing well.”
The game had an early-season showdown feel to it in the Greater Western Ohio Conference race. The Elks (5-0, 4-0) and Wayne are the only unbeaten teams in league play. The Warriors (6-1, 5-0) defeated Springfield 82-65 on Tuesday. Centerville’s next game is Jan. 30 at Wayne.
Fairmont (6-1, 3-1) lost but showed itself to be one of the top teams in the GWOC.
“It was a high-level game,” House said. “That team’s really good, they prepare really well and they run their stuff really good. It was a good game to prepare us for later games.”
House scored 16 points, Rich Rolf scored 15 and Gabe Cupps had eight to lead the Elks. Rolf made consecutive baskets to start the final run.
“It’s easy to kind of lose your footing there, but I thought our guys did a good job of executing down the stretch and getting back to the shots that we wanted,” Brook Cupps said.
Fairmont’s 10-2 run to open the fourth quarter began with baskets by Dasan Doucet and Jamison Rountree. After Cupps scored for the Elks, Anthony Johnson banked in a 3-pointer and Rountree made a 3-pointer from the corner to cut the Elks lead to 37-36.
“They’ve got a great group of upperclassmen,” Brook Cupps said. “Teams with good seniors like Anthony and Dasan, they’re not just going to pack it in and quit playing. So you know that’s coming.”
Fairmont coach Kenny Molz said he was proud of how his team stuck to the game plan of defending well and working for good shots no matter the situation.
“Something we need our basketball program to keep doing is fighting through adversity when things don’t go your way,” he said. “We keep responding and not let things deter us from keeping focus and doing the things that we have to do to have the best chance to win.”
The Elks held Johnson, the GWOC’s leading scorer and top 3-point shooter, to 11 points. Centerville ran several defenders at Johnson, tried to keep the ball out of his hands and worked to prevent him from shooting threes.
“We saw some wrinkles and some things that worked out a certain way just by chance,” Molz said. “If we keep doing that, we’re going to find ways to get him open. And he’s got to do better job of adjusting to that. He’s got to learn how to create contact to get to the free-throw line more so that frees him up.”
Johnson is also learning to do other things to help his team when the defense against him is tight against top teams like Centerville.
“Part of it is just be a good screener, be a decoy,” he said. “We saw today that my other teammates got buckets off of me just being a decoy. If I am open, that’s when I attack. But just be unselfish and be patient.”
The teams meet again at Fairmont on Feb. 4.
“We’ve got to be better, and I’m sure they’ll be better by the next time we see them again,” Brook Cupps said. “They’re a good team. They play really hard, they’re good defensively, they rebound the ball, they take good shots. It’s good basketball, so when we go over there, we’ve got to find a way to execute and beat them.”
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