After a 1-4 start, the Big Walnut Golden Eagles needed something to get them back on track, and a win over their traditional rival was just the ticket.
The Golden Eagles trailed Olentangy by 11 points with three minutes left in the third quarter, but closed within four after three and made a huge fourth-quarter run to take a 69-65 Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division victory over the Braves last Monday (December 22) at Olentangy High School.
“Our kids have been resilient all year,” Big Walnut coach Eric Myers said. “They bring it for us every night, they play hard and they never give up. It would have been very easy for our kids to fold right there. We lost a couple of tough games in a row, but they just kept coming.”
“At times we were playing very hard, but I felt we were just a little inconsistent tonight, probably more inconsistent than we had been,” Olentangy coach Chris Kelly said. “We had the opportunity to almost put the game away, and unfortunately, we were inconsistent enough that they were able to stay close, and when they got hot, it was too much for us to overcome.”
Big Walnut (2-4, 1-3 OCC Capital) trailed much of the game, but used short runs here and there to stay relatively close to Olentangy (2-3, 1-2) all the way through. In the late stages off the third quarter and the Braves up 44-33, the Eagles finished the quarter with a 12-5 run to cut the lead back to four, 49-45, at the end of the period.
The Braves pushed the lead back to eight early on and to seven, 55-48, with five minutes left, but Big Walnut outscored the hosts 17-2 in a 3-minute, 39-second span to take the lead for good, going five of six from the floor with three-pointers from junior Matt Tarney and senior Nick Herbert included. Olentangy, meanwhile, went ice cold from the floor, hitting just one of eight shots during that time.
“We keep telling them the shots are going to go our way eventually, and tonight in the fourth quarter, they did,” Myers said. “We got some defensive stops and finally knocked some shots down. We moved the ball well and our kids are unselfish. They want to get it done and they don’t care who gets it done.”
“Big Walnut hit some big shots in the fourth quarter and obviously, we just couldn’t make one,” Kelly said. “We got some good looks, but we weren’t nearly as good as we could have been defensively — not as good as we normally are. We had inside shots, outside shots, and nothing would drop. That’s a good way to lose a basketball game.”
The Eagles then secured the game at the foul line, going 9-for-14 from the free throw stripe in the quarter and 7-for-8 in the last 57 seconds. Big Walnut had five more shots from the line in the fourth quarter than Olentangy did in the entire game.
“We struggled with foul shots the other night at Mount Vernon,” Myers said. “We felt that was one of the keys to our loss, so we worked on that Saturday. Every kid came in and shot 100 Saturday morning as part of one of our fundraisers, and it paid off for us tonight.”
“Obviously, free throws were a factor late in the game,” Kelly said. “We didn’t get to the free throw line very often.”
Big Walnut held a 5-0 lead after a slow first three minutes, only to see the Braves go on a 15-3 run the rest of the period, getting points from seven different players. The Braves took a nine-point, 20-11 lead just over two minutes into the second, only to see Big Walnut cut it back to two, 26-24, with three minutes left before the half.
Big Walnut trailed 31-27 at the break and received a three from senior Logan Boyd to cut the lead to one early in the third, but the Braves used a 9-1 run to pump the lead to 11, 42-31, on a pair of threes by sophomore Christian Mazzeo, a layup and free throw from junior Jimmy Gundling and a bucket from junior Joe McGuinness.
Boyd ended the run with a bucket, but Olentangy sophomore Seth O’Neal sank a jumper in the paint to knock the advantage back to 11 again, setting things up for the finish.
Big Walnut’s unselfishness was evident in their scoring totals. Five Eagles scored in double figures, led by Boyd and Herbert with 15 points each. Boyd also added five rebounds and a team-high three assists, while Herbert added four boards and sank three treys.
Junior Zac Asher added 14 points, but was just as active on the glass, hauling down a game-leading 14 rebounds and blocking three shots. Junior Michael Buckles added 12 points plus four rebounds and two assists, while Tarney finished with 11 points, including three threes, and four rebounds.
Gundling topped all scorers with 16 points for Olentangy, adding five rebounds, three assists and two steals. O’Neal finished with 12 points while Mazzeo added 10. Junior Ryan Sieve finished with seven points, five boards and two assists, and sophomore Brandon Mazzeo added six points and a game-high five assists.