A little defensive tweak made a big difference for the Pineville Mountain Lions on Thursday as they came back from eight points down at halftime to beat Thomas Walker 62-54.
The Pioneers hit eight of their 14 three-point attempts in the first half, but managed just two of their ten 3s in the second half.
“We came out still playing man (to start the second half), but we were switching on ball screens. We just said no matter who it is switch. Normally we like to fight through them, but they were shooting so well that we felt like we had to do the best we could to cover any shooter and not give them any openings at all,” Mountain Lion coach J.D. Strange said. “A couple times we would go for ball fakes or take a step out of position, but I thought defense was what brought it back.”
Senior forward Conner Ford scored six points and John Robbins and Cody Collett also had baskets as the Lions opened the third quarter with a 10-2 run to tie the game at 38 by the 4:10 mark.
A basket from Collett and two free throws from Robbins put Pineville up 45-42 by the end of the third period.
Zack Bailey, who led Thomas Walker with 15 points, hit a wide open three early in the fourth and a Hunter Cope basket put the Pioneers up 47-45. A little later Cope converted on a baseline drive and Thomas Walker led 49-46 with 5:20 to play.
“Thomas Walker, I thought they did a heck of a job and executed extremely well. For a team to do that this early in the year means they’re well-coached. Coach Hood is doing a great job over there, they were rotating defensively in their zone and giving us problems,” Strange added. “We were very fortunate to be able to win the game. I know we’ve got them again in a couple of weeks, hopefully we’ll can improve a little bit by then or it will be tough going to Ewing.”
Collett hit four straight free throws to give Pineville the lead and then Robbins pulled down an offensive rebound and found Isaac Longworth for 3-point dagger to put the Lions up 53-49 with 3:20 remaining in the game.
Bailey answered with a three for the Pioneers, but Robbins hit a jumper for the Lions. Soon after, Collett came away with a loose ball, took it in for a layup and was fouled. His three-point play gave the Lions a 58-52 advantage with just 1:32 left.
Cope scored for Thomas Walker, but Longworth and Collett combined for four free throws down the stretch as Pineville went on to win by eight. Free throw shooting was another big factor in the game as the Lions went 19-of-28 from the stripe while the Pioneers were 0-for-6.
Collett finished with a game-high 25 points while Robbins added 13 and Ford scored 11 to go along with 11 rebounds. Longworth scored five points and dished out five assists. Senior center Dalton Ledbetter battled foul trouble most of the night and finished with four points after scoring 20 in the season opening win at Oneida Baptist.
“I thought our kids showed a little bit more patience trying to get it inside. Obviously Cody was able to get to the hole and started making smarter decisions in the second half,” Strange said. “John and Conner both stepped up (with Ledbetter in foul trouble). We had some kids come in off the bench and contribute a little at a time, and we’re still searching for who can come in there. (John) Sproles came in and hit a big shot for us early, (Keith) Sexton came in and gave us some quickness and I thought Will Adams gave us a little bit of rebounding.”
Along with Bailey’s 15 points, Thomas Walker got 14 from Justin Greer, nine from Thomas Warf and eight from Cope.
Pineville is off to a 2-0 start after a pair of close games, they pulled out a 61-58 win at OBI on Tuesday.
“I give the kids a lot of credit for that because they have a strong will to succeed. They try very hard and the effort in both games has been tremendous,” Strange added. “Their determination has really been overwhelming, it’s just a matter of when we start gelling and understanding the reasons behind what we’re trying to do. And they will. They’re hungry and it’s going to be a fun group to work with.”
Pineville plays at Harlan County on Tuesday as part of a girls-boys double-header.
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THOMAS WALKER (54) — Zack Bailey 15, Justin Greer 14, Thomas Warf 9, Hunter Cope 8, Justin Catron 6, Kasey Hoskins 2, Shawn Williams 0, Matthew Glass 0, Cody Carter 0.
PINEVILLE (62) — Cody Collett 25, John Robbins 13, Conner Ford 11, Isaac Longworth 5, Dalton Ledbetter 4, John Sproles 3, Keith Sexton 1, Will Adams 0, Tucker Woolum 0, Thomas Brock 0.