MIDDLEBURG - There was a 14-point spread between Midd-West and Belleville Mennonite when the teams came out of the locker room for the second half of Thursday's non-league boys basketball game.
The Thunder, which struggled just to get points on the board in the first half, came into Middleburg already deep in a hole, with just six players available - three others are away from school on a mission trip.
So with a 25-11 advantage, Midd-West's first-year coach, Aaron Ettinger, decided it was time to take advantage of a situation and work on developing his team, which has struggled in the Heartland Conference.
Sentinel photo by CRAIG?UREY
Sam Mogan of Belleville Mennonite, left, shoots as Jake Shaffer of Midd-West defends him in a non-league boys basketball game Thursday night at Midd-West HS
Instead, it was Belleville Mennonite that took advantage. The Thunder doubled up the scoring on the Mustangs in the third, closing the gap to seven. But the visitors gained just two more points before the finish; Midd-West recovered and held on for a 36-31 victory.
The difference in the second half was Belleville Mennonite's Noah Anders, who hit four times from behind the arc on the way to a game-high 17 points, the only player on the court to reach double figures in the contest.
"Noah's the key to our offense - anyone who sees us play for more than a quarter or so sees that," Thunder coach Larry Kauffman said. "He shoots the ball well from the perimeter and it opens up a lot for us."
"Anders deserves a ton of credit - he's a good ballplayer. He was definitely the go-to guy in that offense," Ettinger said.
In fact, that's where the home team struggled - there wasn't "the guy" who was there to carry the team through the difficult moments. The Mustangs' would-be sharpshooter was batting about .200 from the floor.
"Typically we go to Ascher Marks for our offense. He's scored in double figures in all but one game," Ettinger explained. "Tonight was just one of those nights he just couldn't seem to find the bottom of the bucket."
Marks did lead the Mustang attack, albeit with a seven-point performance.
It came down to defense, and Ettinger was willing to take the hit on the second-half frustration his team saw as the formerly lethargic Thunder suddenly came to life.
"The focus the second half was to play man-to-man defense because our man has been very poor. I thought it was a good situation for us to work on some things, especially handling the screening action," he explained - and then things went south.
"We had to go back to our base defense, which is a matchup zone. We had to crank it up a gear, which is tough to do there sometimes," he said. "I'll take the blame - I thought we pulled it off a little too early."
Kauffman didn't seem to be giving or taking credit, just struggling to come up for answers as to how his team could be held to four points in the opening stanza and 11 in the half.
"We didn't show up in the first half - I have no explanation for why," he said. "I told the guys I wasn't going to take the blame for the way they played in the first half and likewise I'm not going to take the credit for the way they played in the second."
But after winning the tip-off the Thunder didn't even get a shot off, and it was 9-0 Mustangs before Belleville Mennonite got on the scoreboard - and that was from the line. Sam Morgan drained the first bucket for his team in the final minute of the first.
"We probably lulled them to sleep with the way we played and the pace we played at in the first half," Kauffman said. "I wasn't displeased with the way we got up and down the floor - they didn't outpace us, they didn't outclass us - we just weren't moving our feet."
And if Midd-West had been shooting half again as well as it did, the game could have been over at halftime.
"The 2-3 zone they played I thought was very favorable because we have a team of shooters," Ettinger said. "It was just one of those nights we couldn't knock shots down."
Midd-West travels to Mifflinburg today, while the Thunder makes the trip to Harrisburg Academy.