Boys basketball: WL-S blows past Northeastern in second half

WLSbbk1: West Liberty-Salem High School senior Nick Burden shoots a layup over Northeastern's Adam Webb during their game on Tuesday night in Springfield. The Tigers won 65-45. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER

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WLSbbk1: West Liberty-Salem High School senior Nick Burden shoots a layup over Northeastern's Adam Webb during their game on Tuesday night in Springfield. The Tigers won 65-45. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER

SPRINGFIELD — The West Liberty-Salem High School boys basketball team is gaining confidence every time it steps on the floor.

The Tigers used a second-half surge to beat Northeastern 65-45 in a key Ohio Heritage Conference North Division game on Tuesday night in Springfield.

West Liberty-Salem senior Tanner LeVan had a career-high 20 points, Owen Johnson scored 13 points and senior Nick Burden added 12 points. The Tigers (9-6, 6-4 OHC North) won their second straight game after earning a key non-conference win over Anna on Saturday.

“Our confidence is growing,” said Tigers coach Darrin Leichty. “We got a big win over Anna. Things hadn’t been going well. I feel like our guys are attacking well and our chemistry has improved. We’re being good teammates to each other and I think that’s a big part of it.”

Northeastern took the court for the first time in 17 days due to COVID-19 protocols. Senior Dale Bush scored 14 points and senior Jake Nichols added 11 as the Jets fell to 5-4 and 4-3 in the OHC North. The Jets were scheduled to play Monday against Greenon but it was postponed to Feb. 15 due to inclement weather.

“It’s twice that’s happened,” said Jets coach Darren Long. “It was easier the first time because I think we had fresher legs. Now, it hurts, but it’s no excuse. We didn’t do very good in the second and third quarters. Turnovers and rebounding really hurt us.”

The Tigers led 20-12 after the first quarter. The Jets cut the lead to three points at 25-22, but the Tigers went on a 6-2 run to take a 31-24 lead in the locker room.

In the third quarter, the Tigers used a 1-2-2 half-court trap, converting turnovers into easy buckets. They outscored the Jets 20-5 in the third quarter.

“Our defensive pressure was really good, especially in the second half and the end of the first half,” Leichty said. “We were able to get into them right at half court. We’ve been doing things a little bit differently from game to game defensively. It was a totally different gameplan from Saturday night and things just worked out for us.”

The Jets won’t have time to focus on the negatives from its performance, Long said. They’re scheduled to play four games in each of the next three weeks. They play back-to-back North Division games this weekend — they host West Jefferson on Friday and travel to Fairbanks on Saturday night.

“We’ve got to learn from it and put it in the file because we don’t have time to pout,” Long said. “Now we’re focused on West Jeff coming here. It’s not going to be easy. … We’ve got to focus on what we can do, throw out the bad things and move on.”

The OHC North champion will be decided this season based on the number of games played. If every team plays all 16 league games, the crossover division games will count in the standings. However, if they’re not completed, the division will be decided by records in the 10 North Division games.

The Tigers host Fairbanks (8-5, 5-4) on Friday night. They beat the Panthers 40-38 on opening night.

“Every league game is big,” Leichty said. “It’s kind of hard to know where we all stand in the standings. You look at it, but it really doesn’t mean a lot, you just need to win games.”

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