BY JIM COX

Times Bulletin Correspondent

sports@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT - It took awhile, but Van Wert finally shook off a pesky Bryan team in the fourth quarter to escape with a 45-32 win. The Cougars are now 8-5. Bryan is 7-7.

It was a solid defense that ultimately did the job for the hosts. That was most evident in the final period, won by Van Wert 10-2 to put the game away. The lead was 35-30 going into those last eight minutes. AJ Smith promptly swished a three-pointer from out front, but Bryan's Jordan Spiess made two free throws to cut it to 38-32 at the 6:56 mark. That, however, was "all she wrote" for Bryan. Kyle Keber banked in a three from straight away at 4:52, then scored on a breakaway assist from Connor Holliday at 2:46. Smith's turnaround 10-foot jumper via a Joey Hurless pass finished off the scoring at 1:57. Meanwhile, the Bears were going zero for seven from the field to seal their doom.

"Overall, it (the defense) was pretty good," said Cougar coach Dave Froelich. "We had a little bit of a letdown in the third quarter. It's hard to sustain that for a period of time, but we did a good job. We took Schimmoeller (Bryan's leading scorer) out of it a little bit and made it difficult. The offense was hard to find at times, but we did enough. It's a big win on a Saturday night after a tough Friday. We need to string a couple (of wins) and not do this one and one type of thing."

The first quarter was about as ugly as it can get, ending in a 6-5 Bryan lead, while Van Wert was shooting 2 for 14 from the field, Bryan 2 for 12. Many of the shots by both teams were from point blank range. There were three ties and three lead changes early in the second period, during which Matt Bidlack came off the bench to score six big points. Van Wert ended the quarter with an 8-0 run to break a 13-13 tie and take a 21-13 lead into the second half. That run came on a Smith trey from the right corner, a fast break layup by Caleb Markward, and another Smith trifecta, this one from out front.

Froelich appreciated Bidlack's second quarter contribution. "We don't have a lot of post presence, and he's a pretty solid post kid at six foot," said Froelich. "Unfortunately, he's only six foot, but he can position pretty well and he's strong to finish. We were trying at least to put some pressure on the interior so we could get some better looks on the outside. Once we do that, it frees it up a little for AJ or Keeb or whoever. It just gives us a little more balanced attack if we can score down there. We didn't do that as well as we should've. We missed a lot of interior shots early."

Bryan however, bounced back early in the third quarter to get within 22-19. Keber and Smith then hit consecutive threes - 28-19 at 5:29 - but that momentum didn't last, and it was still a game at 35-30 after three.

The third period was the only good quarter for the visitors - 17 points on 6 of 14 field goal shooting. Their other three quarters produced only six, seven, and two points, respectively.

Bryan ended up an icy 27 percent (12 of 45) from the field, compared to Van Wert's 41 percent (15 of 37). Both teams were good from the free throw line, the Cougars hitting 82 percent (9 of 11), the Bears 83 percent (5 of 6). Van Wert had the edge in rebounds, 26-21, but Bryan had one less turnover, 10-11. Smith regained his shooting eye with a 6-for-10 field goal performance and 17 points. Keber also hit double digits with 10, and Bidlack contributed eight. Spiess led a balanced Bryan attack with nine.

Smith also had a big game defensively and rebounding-wise. "He (Smith) is a deceptively good rebounder," said Froelich. "His timing is really good. His interior defense is good at times. It's not physical, but he can change some things up top with his length. He's really a good rebounder, but it's deceptive because he doesn't look like the kind of kid who would be a good rebounder." In the junior varsity game the score was tied 25-25 early in the fourth quarter, but the Cougars went on a 12-0 run and held on for a 40-34 win. Van Wert (12-1) was led in scoring by Drew Myers and Nathan Stoller with 11 and 9. Kyle Rupp had 24 for Bryan (7-7).

Score by quarters:

Van Wert 5 16 14 10 - 45 Bryan 6 7 17 2 - 32

Van Wert (45)

Markward 2 1-2 5, Smith 6 1-2 17, Hurless 2 1-1 5, Holliday 0 0-0 0, Wolford 0 0-0 0, Keber 3 2-2 10, Bidlack 2 4-4 8, Ray 0 0-0 0, Wortman 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 9-11 45.

Bryan (32)

Culler 1 0-0 2, Thomas Martin 3 0-0 6, Schimmoeller 3 0-0 7, Spiess 2 4-4 9, Hug 1 0-0 2, Minor 1 0-0 3, Austin Martin 1 1-2 3, Jones 0 0-0 0, Shaffer 0 0-0 0. Totals 12 5-6 32.

Three-point field goals: Van Wert 6 (Smith 4, Keber 2), Bryan 3 (Schimmoeller, Minor Spiess).