By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — The Covington boys basketball team has had an up-and-down couple of weeks.
A solid start against Miami East, though, led to one of the Buccaneers’ best performances as a team of the season so far.
Covington began Friday night’s game on a 7-1 run and led wire to wire with everyone that saw the floor contributing something meaningful, while the Vikings struggled to make their free throws or to get enough good chances for their key post player Logan West in a 43-33 Buccaneer victory at Miami East High School.
The Buccs, who improved to 7-5 overall and 3-2 in the Cross County Conference, dropped the first game of 2017, 36-33 to Milton-Union, bounced back with a win against Tri-County North and then lost by one point to National Trail on Tuesday. But Friday, they put it all together against the Vikings, who fell to 7-3 overall and 4-2 in the CCC.
“This is a good basketball league, and these are the types of games that you often see top to bottom in this league,” Covington coach Matt Pond said. “We’ve had a couple of sub-par outings. And that’s not to take anything away from Milton-Union — they outplayed us — and National Trail came in and got us. We dug a hole against them, gave ourselves a chance but couldn’t get out of it.
“Our kids know what they’re capable of, and it’s up to us to get that out of them. This was a good team win.”
Trevor Miller led the Buccs with 13 points and four rebounds, Nathan Blei added 11 points, four rebounds and four assists and Tristin Sowers came off the bench to add nine points and a five rebounds as Covington won the battle of the boards 28-26 with five of the seven players it used grabbing at least four rebounds, but none more than five.
“We need to do that,” Pond said. “Those are things that, when we as a team put it all together, that’s what we’re capable of. And that’s a good basketball team, a well-coached team, and our kids stepped up to the challenge. It was just good high school basketball all the way around.”
West ended up scoring a game-high 16 points and leading the Vikings with nine rebounds despite not even taking a shot in the first quarter, going 6 for 9 from the field himself while East was 11 for 33 as a team. Past that, Austin Rutledge hit a pair of first-half 3s and finished with six points, while no other Viking scored more than three points as East went a paltry 8 for 23 from the free throw line in the game.
“Things did not go our way from the start,” Miami East coach Allen Mack said. “A lot of credit to Covington. They came ready to play and jumped out 7-1. They executed their offense against our zone, got the early lead and never gave it up. They made it tough on us on the offensive end.
“We got a solid night from Logan, but it was a little bit of a struggle for him and our team from the line to say the least. And it seemed like every time we’d get an and-one opportunity, it’d roll off and we’d end up having to shoot two.”
Miller hit a 3 to open the game, then Austin Kearns hit a free throw to get East on the board. A steal and layup by Jayce Pond was the next score — with 3:43 to go in the quarter — and then Miller scored inside to give the Buccs a 7-1 lead and force a Vikings timeout with 3:11 to go. Rutledge hit a 3 for the Vikings’ first field goal at the 1:50 mark, but Blei answered with a putback. Dalton Taynor sank a 3 for East to get the lead down to 9-7 at the end of one — but two points would be the closest the Vikings got in the game.
Rutledge’s other 3 late in the second quarter cut the lead to two again at 17-15, but two sets of missed free throws by the Vikings kept them from evening up the game — and another Pond steal led to a fast break to finish the half as Blei hit Sowers for the finish to make it 19-15 at the break.
West was held to only five points in the first half, with the Vikings going 2 for 9 from the line to start.
“They’ve got one of the best post players in the area (West),” Pond said. “We kind of challenged our bigs this week. We gave them a hard time, poked and prodded them a little bit, but man, you want to talk about some kids that dug in and battled all night. He is a load, and I couldn’t be more proud. Kenny Atkinson battled hard all night, Sowers came in and gave us huge minutes, Miller ends up with 13 points — and these kids are putting up points while battling this kid on defense.”
“As far as our struggles on the offensive end, getting 33, you’ve got to give Covington a lot of credit,” Mack said. “They’ve got a veteran team, they’ve got athletic and physical and solid kids, and they really executed well in their defense and took away a lot of things we do well.”
Covington then took away the ball to start the second half. After the Vikings only turned it over three times in the first half, the Buccs stole the ball on the first three possessions of the third, getting a Blei layup out of the flurry. West hit a pair of free throws to keep pace, but Blei hit a 3 and Sowers later converted a three-point play to extend the Buccs’ lead to 27-19. After a Cam Coomes free throw, Sowers scored inside and a Pond steal led to a finish by Zach Parrett in transition to give the Buccs their biggest lead at 31-20, and Covington entered the fourth with a 33-24 lead.
From there, the closest the Vikings got was 33-26 after a steal and layup by Coomes, but the Buccs were able to put the game away from there.
Pond finished with three points, four rebounds, two assists and four steals, Parrett had four points, Atkinson had three points and Murphy added four rebounds and two assists.
“I think our guards played a great game, as well, to match the bigs,” Pond said. “If you look at Murphy’s line, he doesn’t have any points, but I thought our pressure was key. Murphy does so many things that don’t show up in a box score. Blei, a floor leader, Jayce picked up some big assists. The kids just played really well.”
Kearns had three points and four rebounds for the Vikings, Coomes and Taynor each scored three points and Parker Heim added two.
“We only had three turnovers in the first half and ended up with nine in the second half,” Mack said. “We tried to play a little bit quicker, but we got in a hurry and made some mistakes with the basketball. Out of our 12 turnovers, nine of those were steals by Covington, so they did a nice job anticipating and earned the big victory on the road.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.