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February 7, 2012

 

Knock off 1st place rival Cincy, 65-53 —

Avenging Eagles flying high

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

McGRAW — On a special occasion where seven McGraw Central seniors took final basketball bows prior to tip-off, it would be a couple of underclassmen who played key roles in keeping the Eagles’ hopes of sharing a regular season Central Counties League title alive.
Sophomore center Brad Hill scored 20 points and junior guard Nick Cowen turned in a stellar defensive effort to go along with an eight-point contribution as the Eagles were 65-53 home court winners over arch-rival and league-leader Cincinnatus Central before a boisterous packed house.
Both players came off the bench on Monday night to help the Eagles avenge an earlier 63-51 loss at Cincy back in January. McGraw improves to 8-3 in league play and 14-3 overall with an eighth straight victory.
The Eagles need to close out the regular season with a win at Madison on Wednesday, and hope Cincinnatus (9-2 CCL, 10-5 overall) stumbles at home against Otselic Valley on Friday, to be regular season co-champions.
Ironically, McGraw and Cincy did share first place in the final CCL soccer standings this past fall.
Senior guard Joe Peri led Cincy’s Red Lions with 22 points, 13 of those coming in the first half when the visitors were clinging to a 25-24 lead. Hounded mostly by Cowen’s denying defensive work, Peri missed seven of the first eight shots he took in the second half when McGraw took control.
“Defense wins championships and we did a really good job on defense,” noted Cowen, though the Eagles also erupted for 41 points after intermission. Cincy shot just 32 percent from the floor for the game.
“He was really outstanding. He had a hurt finger and he just persevered and came through for us and played outstanding defense,” said McGraw coach Corey Wilson of Cowen, who needed eight stitches after splitting open a finger “being an idiot” in chemistry class this past Friday.
“Don’t let him get the ball, that was the main strategy,” said Cowen of being Peri’s constant shadow. “Don’t let him get the ball and he can’t shoot, because he’s a really good shooter. I tried to stay on him the best I could, because he’s fast, he’s quick.”
Meanwhile, Hill made 7-of-10 shots being the main beneficiary of some crisp McGraw passing that dissected Cincy’s zone defense.
“Brad is our sophomore and he’s getting a lot of experience up here (on the varsity) and he’s helping us a lot,” said Coach Wilson. “He’s a big rebounder and tonight he finished off a lot of shots.”
McGRAW SENIORS WERE instrumental on Senior Night, too. Guard Chance Whible scored 10 points and provided some heads-up passing, versatile Austin Chambers finished with eight points and center Matt Kenyon added seven to help out.
Cincy not only struggled with McGraw’s height, a pre-game concern for Coach Jim Halstrom, but also failed to get open looks against the Eagles’ feisty man-to-man defensive pressure. Peri needed 26 shots to score his 22 points. Senior Jason Lindley added 14 points including a pair of 3-pointers in support, but no one was really on target for the Red Lions.
“They are aggressive and they’re tough, and that’s the thing. We weren’t tough enough,” said Coach Halstrom of Cincy’s offensive struggles. “In the first half we did a good job combating that, but in the second half we didn’t. We weren’t hitting the boards hard.
“We got in foul trouble and we started squawking about the lack of calls and stuff, but that wasn’t the case. We didn’t play as hard as they did, and that was it,” he added, the loss of center Travis Rheinheimer to fouls not helping matters.
Cincy didn’t shoot a free throw until there was 3:37 left to go in the third quarter, when the Red Lions still held a 34-32 lead. McGraw closed out the quarter out-scoring Cincy 12-1, Hill with four baskets during that decisive outburst.
Cincy cut that 44-37 deficit to within 48-44 when Lindley landed a 3-pointer in transition with just over five minutes to go, but Cowen countered with a trey from the corner that got a friendly bounce off the rim and then fed Whible for a lay-up. When Chambers scored off the offense boards moments later, McGraw was a 55-44 leader and out of danger.
“WE STUCK TO OUR man (defense), and that’s been our bread and butter throughout the whole season,” said McGraw’s Wilson. “The first time we played them we struggled shooting the ball. We didn’t make a lot of shots out on the perimeter throughout this game but hustle is what helped us, missing shots but getting second opportunities.”
Though Cincy made nine 3-pointers to McGraw’s three, the Red Lions also missed 20 times from beyond the arc.
“We took it to them in the first half and did a good job being aggressive, but we settled too much for the 3-point shot in the second half and it wasn’t working,” noted Coach Halstrom. “We didn’t do as good a job, and that’s on me.”
Cincy can still take the title alone with a win Friday.
“I know we’ll have the energy that McGraw had tonight, being the Senior Night for us Friday,” said Coach Halstrom, Cincy with nine seniors on its roster. “We’ll have a good crowd like these guys had tonight.”
— McGraw JVs are now 14-3 on the season after beating Cincy in the prelim 50-27, Chris Sweeney with 14 points, Jon Morse 13 and Mike Smith eight for the winners.

 

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