Greeneview coach Kyle Fulk knew what league-leading Catholic Central was capable of Friday night.
“They’re phenomenal at getting to the rim,” he said.
»RELATED: Springfield falls to Centerville
»RELATED: Boys basketball power rankings
The Irish, the No. 6-ranked Division IV team in Ohio, proved it when Sabien Doolittle took a defensive rebound all the way for a layup to start the game. Halfway through the first quarter the Irish did what they do so well for an 8-5 lead.
The review of the game plan worked. The Rams led 12-9 at the end of the first quarter. They never trailed again, led by as many as 13 early in the second half and got their defensive game plan on track for a 51-46 victory.
“We tried to frustrate them because they’ve got kids all over the floor who can score the ball,” Fulk said. “They’re a very scary team to prepare for.”
The specifics were to help enough on ballscreens to force the Irish toward the baseline and away from the middle of the floor where they can be so dangerous.
“We wanted to make them do what they didn’t want to do,” Fulk said.
The second-place Rams (10-8, 9-4 Ohio Heritage Conference South) led 21-15 at halftime, 36-28 after three quarters and by as many as 11 in the fourth. They responded to every little run the Irish made.
“We knew we were going up against one of the best teams in our conference, and we knew we had to do what he told us to do to get the job done,” said junior Nick Clevenger, who led the Rams with 16 points.
Central (13-3, 9-2) was led by Mykah Eichie with 16 points and Trey Dunn with 11. But Doolittle was held to six points. Still, the Irish press turned two steals into layups to cut the deficit to 43-41 with 1:49 left. But Gabe Caudill got open for a layup on an out-of-bounds play and hit a foul-line jumper to push the lead to 47-41.
“Defensively we just didn’t play the way we know how to play,” Central coach Cody Sarensen said. “We were chasing guys off screens, not in good help-side position, not in good position overall. They did a nice job moving without the basketball, going off of screens and getting open looks because of that.”
That’s how Caudill scored late and had a lot to do with Clevenger’s big night.
“He played with a lot of passion and came out and tried to be a leader tonight,” Fulk said of Clevenger. “He took the ball strong and wasn’t worried about getting blocked by some of their athletes.”
Central won its first seven league games, including a 51-37 win over Greeneview in December. But the Irish have now lost two of their last four after reaching No. 4 in early January.
Sarensen said he understands his young team is still learning how to compete, but the slow start in the loss to West Jefferson two weeks ago and the loss at Greeneview has him reminding his team it can’t rely on being a second-half team.
“Knowing what we’re capable of, it shouldn’t happen as much — getting down early and trying to play catch up,” he said. “If we want to put ourselves in a good position, our kids have to be ready every day.”
With the season winding down, this was the kind of win Greeneview needed after a four-game winning streak was snapped this week by West Liberty-Salem.
“It feels pretty good to be able to beat a high-caliber team,” Clevenger said. “Especially with the kind of rocky season with a few ups and downs, it feels good to have this.”