Van Wert’s Matt Bidlack drives on a Carroll defender in a game at Van Wert High School Tuesday night. The Cougars fell to the visitors from Indiana 45-41. (Times Bulletin/Brian Bassett)
BY BRIAN BASSETT
Times Bulletin Sports Editor
VAN WERT - Despite turning the ball over 22 times and shooting only 31 percent from the field in an out-of-state game with Fort Wayne Carroll at the Cougars' Den Tuesday night, the Van Wert Cougar basketball team had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds - twice.
Unfortunately for Van Wert, both possessions ended in turnovers, and the visitors from Indiana escaped with a 45-41 victory.
"We turned it (over) 22 times, and we had two bad possessions at the end of the game. We had the basketball and turned it over - never got a shot opportunity. That was kind of the story all night," explained Van Wert coach Dave Froelich.
The Chargers led the game by six points with 2:25 to play in the final frame, and had a 39-34 lead with as little at 1:07 left, before senior point guard Joey Hurless hit a free throw for the Cougars.
When sophomore guard Chandler White put in a layup with 58 seconds left in the game to run the Carroll lead to 41-35, however, the stands on both sides of the gym began to clear.
Then things got interesting.
After a single free throw from sophomore guard Connor Holliday brought Van Wert within five, Carroll's freshman forward Kyle Mallers hit a pair of free throws to extend the Charger lead to 43-36 with 37.8 seconds remaining on the clock.
The Cougars got the ball back quickly and senior post Nik Wolford got a putback to go. Wolford was fouled while shooting and was granted a foul shot, but before he could take a shot White picked up a technical for the Chargers, which was also his fifth foul, and he was run from the game.
Wolford made the shot to bring the Cougars within four, then senior forward A.J. Smith hit both free throws granted from the technical to cut Carroll's lead to two, 43-41, and Van Wert retained the ball with 28.8 seconds showing on the clock.
Van Wert then picked up its 21st turnover of the night when a Smith pass went to a Charger defender with 18.2 to play. Mallers stole the pass and was immediately fouled, but gave Van Wert new life at the other end when he missed thir front end of a one-and-one.
Van Wert called a timeout with 11.8 seconds left, but never got a shot off before committing turnover number 22 with 2.6 seconds left.
Two late free throws from senior forward Tony Orr and a missed full-court heave by Van Wert later, Carroll came away with the 45-41 win.
Van Wert led 11-6 after the first quarter, and ran the score to 14-6 before Carroll went on a 12-0 run to take an 18-14 lead late in the second quarter. Van Wert got a Smith jump shot and two Hurless free throws to force an 18-18 tie at the break.
A Hurless three and a Smith drive helped the Cougars secure a 26-20 lead to open the second half. Carroll answered with another big run, however. This time the Chargers had a 14-2 surge, spanning part of two quarters, to take a 34-28 lead with 4:55 to play in the game.
"We turned it (over). That's what happens - the flood gates open. They had a 12-0 run in the first half, and whatever that (run) was in the second half. We're not good enough to overcome that," Froelich said.
The Cougars shot 9-of-24 from two-point range, and 4-of-18 from deep, good for 13-of-42 (31 percent) from the field.
"Defensively they caused us problems with their length. We had a hard time getting looks. We just weren't very good with the ball tonight," Froelich described.
The Chargers went 17-of-37 (46 percent) on the evening, but managed 15-of-25 from two-point land (60 percent).
White had a game-high 13 points for Carroll (6-8), and Mallers added 12.
Van Wert (6-3) was led by Hurless, who scored 11 points, while Smith added 10 points and eight rebounds. Junior forward Matt Bidlack grabbed 10 rebounds to go along with six points.
The Cougars return to action Friday when the travel to Elida to take on the Bulldogs.
"We've got to set this aside, as dissapointing as it is," added Froelich. "I'm sure (Elida) learned a little bit about our weakness of handling pressure. We're going to see it again, then we've got to prepare to play against one of the best players in Ohio (Elida's junior forward Dakota Mathias). We don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves. We've got to go to work tomorrow and see if we can get better."
CARROLL (2pt. 3pt. FT Pts.)
White 4-8 0-0 5-6 13, Miller 4-7 0-6 0-1 8, Freiburger 3-3 0-1 0-0 6, Kalonji 1-2 0-0 0-0 2, Orr 0-1 0-1 2-2 2, Hammond 0-0 0-0 0-0 0, Mallers 2-3 2-3 2-5 12, Gutierrez 1-1 0-1 0-0 2.
Markward 0-1 0-1 0-0 0, Smith 2-8 1-10 3-4 10, Hurless 2-4 1-3 4-6 11, Bidlack 3-6 0-0 0-0 6, Wolford 1-2 0-0 1-1 3, K. Keber 1-2 0-0 0-1 2, Ray 0-0 0-0 0-0 0, Holliday 0-1 2-4 3-6 9, N. Keber 0-0 0-0 0-0 0.
Carroll 6 12 10 17 - 45
Van Wert 11 7 7 16 - 41