Howard High School's boys basketball season ended in a hail of toughshots, tentative shots and, most damaging of all, missed shots.
South Carroll's disruptive zone defenses caused much of Howard's shooting problems, and the Cavaliers used their height advantage to control Howard inside at both ends of the floor.
But the reason for the Lions' 70-65 defeat at South Carroll Monday night -- which eliminated them from the Class 3A Region I playoffs -- could be traced to a horrendous first half, in which Howard turnedthe ball over repeatedly, made just six shots in 22 attempts from the floor and fell into a 33-20 hole by halftime.
The Lions (11-11) found their touch in the second half, even hitting five three-point baskets to lead a gutsy fourth-quarter rally. But they collapsed defensively by giving up a handful of layups down the stretch to the Cavaliers (12-10), who feasted on Howard's full-court press defense.
Howard, which never led, got to within five points when guard Terry Troy cut the Cavaliers' lead to 68-63 with his third three-pointer of the period with 24 seconds left. The Lions called their final timeout,then received a huge boost when South Carroll threw away the inboundpass.
But the game's final sequence summed up Howard's frustration. Yaphet Oliphant drove the lane and bounced a layup off the back ofthe iron. South Carroll rebounded and got the ball to a wide-open George Dick, who beat the Lions down the floor for his fourth fast-break layup of the period. Ballgame.
Howard shot a solid 50 percent from the floor in the second half. But the Lions never overcame their first-half drought, which was caused somewhat by South Carroll's assortment of zone defenses. Howard also had itself to blame. The Lions missed at least 10 layups.
"If we would've played the first half theway we played the fourth quarter (when the Lions scored 26 points), we would've won. But it doesn't work that way," said Howard coach Rich Jenkins. "We didn't step up to take the shots in the first half. The shots were there against their zone, but we just didn't take them."
Troy, who scored 13 points for Howard, saw it differently.
"Usually, when we play against zones in the county, we can pound the ball inside to Dax (Matthews) and Tim (Day), but they (South Carroll) dosuch a good job with it," Troy said. "Against their zone, it's toughto get it inside. And when you kick the ball out and you're getting ready to shoot the jumper, they're right back in your face."
The Cavaliers harassed Howard with the same ingredients that helped them beat the Lions by 12 points in December. Their zone defense, led by guards Bryan Baker and Joe Goodwin, 6-foot-3 forward Jamie Harich and 6-5 center Mike Downs, limited Alec Sutton -- Howard's top scorer -- to 16 points. Seven of those points came at the foul line, as Sutton made just four baskets.
Matthews added 13 points. Guard Dave Jones had 10.
Contrary to the Lions' up-and-down style of play, the Cavaliers were a model of consistency. They beat the Lions on the boards all night, out-rebounding Howard, 38-28. They forced the ball inside effectively against the Lions' man-to-man defense and found open shooters who made Howard pay from the wings. And when Downs and Harich got into early foul trouble, the Cavaliers dug into their bench and didn't miss a beat.
South Carroll, which improved its home record to 9-2, hit 28 of 55 shots (51 percent) overall and, in the first half, went 9-for-10 at the foul line.
Dick came off the bench to lead all scorers with 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting. He added eight rebounds. Harich scored 16 points (5-for-10), grabbed seven rebounds and dished out eight assists. Downs and forward Chris Larrick each scored 10points. Downs had six rebounds.
The Lions, typically a fast-starting team, struggled after the opening tip-off. They committed seven turnovers and made just two baskets to fall behind, 15-8, at the end of the first period. Then, behind three-point baskets by Larrick and Harich and 8-for-9 foul shooting in the second period, the Cavaliers extended the lead to 33-20 at the half.
Howard came out firing in the second half, hitting four of their first five shots, the last a three-pointer by Jones that pulled the Lions to within 35-28 with 6:03 left in the third period. The Cavaliers then called timeout, and Downs and Harich went on to score 12 of the Cavaliers next 14 points. South Carroll held a commanding 49-39 lead at the quarter's end.
The Lions then mounted their best rally of the night. Troy hit two straight three-pointers, and Jones followed with another to slice the lead to 56-50 with 4:57 left.
The Lions stayed within seven points for most of the stretch run and burned three timeouts during the final minute. The last timeout came after Troy buried his third trey of the period with 24 seconds left, which cut the lead to 68-63. But, with 20seconds left, Oliphant's crucial layup wouldn't fall, and South Carroll shook the Lions for good.