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VAN WERT — Van Wert turned in a strong defensive performance over the final three quarters and used an offensive outburst in the second quarter keyed by a bench player’s breakout night for a 68-43 win over St. Marys on Friday night.
“I just thought our attention to the little things got better and we were able to capitalize when we made them uncomfortable,” Van Wert head coach Dave Froelich said.
Offensively for the Cougars, a bench player was the catalyst.
Van Wert’s A.J. Smith scored a game-high 18 points as a reserve — part of a 26-point performance by the Cougar bench on Friday.
The lanky guard went 4-for-5 from the floor and 3-for-4 from three-point range in the second quarter on a night St. Marys focused its defensive attention on Jacob Myers, who averaged 18 points per game coming into the night. Myers scored 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting.
“Jake didn’t hit those shots but A.J. did,” Froelich said.
Smith had a personal 8-0 run in the second quarter to help swing the momentum.
“He’s a good shooter,” Froelich said. “He’s done a better job of not just being a standstill shooter. He’s able to put it on the deck a little bit and get to the rim and he’s deceptively long. He’s got some length and he’s got a scorer’s mentality. You’ve got to be a bit of a gunslinger when the time comes. It’s nice for him to get that breakout because we’re going to need somebody to help Jake (Myers) if we’re going to try to keep playing (in the tournament).”
Joe Moonshower added 12 points and five rebounds on 6-of-6 shooting while being a key defensive cog against St. Marys leading scorer J.D. Meyer.
“Joe Moonshower did an excellent job making Meyer uncomfortable,” Froelich said. “For the most part he did it by himself. We brought some help. We had a fire rule where primarily Chadd Phillips was coming. Meyer is a heck of an athlete and can really go off on some teams, but Joe did a good job of being up on him...and we did a good job of rotating behind him. Our other guys supported that.”
Van Wert locked down the Riders’ two scorers, holding Meyer to a pair of free throws and Garet Fledderjohann to eight points on 2-of-9 shooting.
“Overall I thought our defense was pretty good and it allowed us to get some easy baskets,” said Froelich, whose team shot better than 70 percent on shots inside the three-point arc on Friday. “We got some transition baskets.”
D.J. Manning led St. Marys with 12 points. Dustin Fisher added 10 points for the Riders.
St. Marys lost its sixth straight game and its seventh straight Western Buckeye League contest. The 68 points surrendered were the fifth most in a game by the Riders this season.
The Cougars held St. Marys to just 15 second-half points to coast to the win in what became a battle of junior varsity players for much of the fourth quarter.
It was a far cry from the success the Riders had early after St. Marys began the game by hitting three of its four shots from beyond the arc while keeping possessions alive with multiple offensive rebounds in the early going.
“We came out hot and hit some shots but then I think we failed to run our half court,” St. Marys head coach Dan Hegemier said. “The guys are trying hard and trying to put it all on their shoulders. You can’t do that. You have to run our sets and our offense and try to get a good look.”
St. Marys shot just 27 percent from the floor (8-of-29) over the final three quarters.
St. Marys hosts Sidney Lehman Catholic tonight at 6 p.m. on senior night and in a home finale.
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