Indians hold off Tigers’ late game charge
Five players finish with 12 or more points
MIFFLINTOWN — In the first half the Indians were red hot.
So hot in fact, that East Juniata coach Steve Smith was confident that the Indians would eventually cool off.
The Indians’ offensive onslaught from behind the arc eventually did cease, but a fantastic first half in which Juniata hit eight 3-pointers was too much for the Tigers to overcome — even with a valiant 20-point effort in the final quarter — in a 58-56 loss in a Tri-Valley boys basketball contest Monday night.
Bryson Clark and Devon Nealman had an unbelievable shooting night for Juniata, combining for 10 of Juniata’s 11 3-pointers in the Juniata County clash. No other Indian scored in double figures.
“We did not expect them to shoot the ball that well,” Smith said. “We never anticipated that. They had 11 3-pointers. If they hit 10, we win the game. We ran the zone defense early and decided to stay in it because we honestly didn’t think they would keep that up for 10-12 minutes.”
East Juniata trailed 49-39 with 5:36 to play after a drive to the basket by Clark, who was fouled and was unable to convert the old fashioned 3-point play. The Tigers rallied back behind multiple trips to the free-throw line.
After hitting a pair of free throws, Wayne Dressler stole a pass and was fouled under the basket to earn a second trip to the line where he hit another pair of free throws to cut the Juniata lead to 49-48, with 4:32 left to play. East Juniata’s Tanner Barth hit a pair of free throws later in the quarter to give East Juniata its first lead of the second half, 52-51, with 3:39 to play.
The Indians pushed their lead up to three with 28 seconds remaining and the Tigers were unable to get a 3-pointer to fall as Xavier Clement couldn’t hit either of his attempts in the final 30 seconds from deep. A free throw by Jamie Blair sealed the game for Juniata with five seconds left.
“We have to learn to take care of the ball in the crucial situations,” Juniata coach Al Ream said. “We had three turnovers, two of them on in-bounds plays. We had to grind it out at the end, which our kids really stood up and did it. We had to do it as a unit.”
After a feeling-out process in the opening quarter, Juniata wasted no time pouring it on in the second frame. Juniata led 16-15 with 2:24 left in the second quarter but then opened the flood gates, knocking down a barrage of 3-pointers to close the half on a 12-5 run to grab a 28-20 halftime advantage.
The Indians facilitated the ball very well in the second quarter, setting up a majority of their points by swinging the basketball around the perimeter until a quality look presented itself. The Tigers’ zone defense was unable to pressure shooters on the outside, leading to multiple 3-pointers. Clark hit four threes in the second, while Nealman hit two.
“They gained some confidence,” Ream said. “They came out and hit one and then they hit two, and they thought all right, we can do this. We were on tonight, so they were playing pretty well. We cooled off in the second half though. We didn’t get those looks and they did a good job of taking it away.”
The Tigers switched to a man defense in the second half, including a full-court man defense in the fourth quarter that paid dividends on the offensive end of the floor, converting multiple buckets after steals as the Indians struggled to cross half court at times.
East Juniata also worked the ball inside at a much higher rate, getting to the basket and drawing contact in the paint. The Tigers cut the Juniata lead in the fourth by taking advantage of free throws, knocking down 11-of-12 shots from the charity stripe in the final stanza.
“I thought the guys played with a lot of heart and a lot of effort,” Smith said. “We just came up two points short. We just ran out of time. These guys are young, we’re trying to do something special and we are getting better.”
East Juniata was led by Wayne Dressler who had 16 points and five steals, while Xavier Clement had 15 points. Evan Reichenbach also scored in double-figures with 12 points.
Clark had a game-high 25 points for Juniata, to go along with five assists and four rebounds. Devon Nealman had 15 points — all of them coming on 3-pointers — along with seven assists and five rebounds.
For Juniata, the Indians hope to carry the hot shooting and late defensive stops into their next few games in order to build on its great night from the floor.
“We need to work like this all the time,” Ream said. “We need to play at this level all the time. [East Juniata] is a much-improved team and they are getting better every day. They’re young and we’re young, so it’s going to be a matchup that will be fun. For us, we are looking to the next game and we need to keep this level up.”
The Indians host Halifax on Thursday, while the Tigers travel to Millersburg. Both games are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. starts.
Juniata 58, East Juniata 56
Wayne Dressler 5 4-4 16, Xavier Clement 5 3-3 15, Evan Reichenbach 4 4-8 12, Bryce Martin 2 0-0 4, Andrew Hunter 2 0-0 4, Logan Wagner 1 1-2 3, Tanner Barth 0 2-2 2. Totals: 19 14-19 56.
3-point goals: Dressler 2, Clement 2.
Bryson Clark 9 2-6 25, Devon Nealman 5 0-0 15, Tylor Gomez 4 0-0 8, Jamie Bailer 1 1-3 4, Jacob Condo 1 0-4 2, Jon Elliott 1 0-0 2, Jace White 1 0-0 2. Totals: 22 3-13 58.
3-point goals: Clark 5, Nealman 5, Bailer.
Score by quarters:
Juniata 8-20-15-15 — 58
East Juniata 5-15-14-20 — 56