Story by Tim Smith can be found here
The way Tuesday night’s varsity boys basketball game at Plymouth Christian Academy played out for Garden City was a microcosm of the Cougars’ entire season.
After a promising start to the non-conference tilt, with Garden City leading 22-18 after one frame, the Class A Cougars let the Class D Eagles off the hook.
It was a 34-33 PCA lead at halftime, and both teams registered 21 points in the third. But then the Eagles broke loose with a 20-12 surge in the fourth quarter, to earn a 75-66 victory.
“Every time we’ve gotten any type of run going (all season), the ebbs and flow never seem to favor it long enough for us,” lamented Garden City head coach Rick Morton. “We’ve had a couple of these games where we were unable to get over the top, and it was another one today where we just couldn’t sustain anything for long periods of time.”
Meanwhile, Eagles head coach Matt Windle, whose team improved to 11-7, said his team did a good job of pushing the pace and — at least in the second half — getting out defensively to thwart Garden City players from hitting long-range jumpers.
“It was great to see us push the ball and play our tempo,” Windle said. “We didn’t do anything special, … we just played our game.”
A big thorn in Garden City’s side was PCA junior guard Matt Malcolm, who led all players with 23 points — including six on a pair of clutch treys in the second half. The first one cracked a 52-52 tie, a moon shot from beyond the top of the arc.
Coming up big
Then, in the fourth and the Eagles clinging to a 61-59 edge, Malcolm connected again from the right corner. The Cougars could not get closer than five points the rest of the way.
“We tried to limit Malcolm as much as we could,” Morton said. “He hit a big three when we cut it to two points and he knocked down a big-time three in the corner.
“Big-time players make big-time shots and he did a good job of that tonight.”
Also strong for the Eagles were junior forward Max Okolo (16 points, 15 rebounds), junior guard Levi Yakuber (15 points) and junior forward Jayme Fadden (11 points).
“I feel like I had to, along with my teammate Jayme, we had to just really box the team out, and play really strong and get that rebound,” Okolo explained. “We were both working and just getting the rebounds, we did what we had to do.
“I feel like it was just getting those second-chance points. At the end, we got a lot of second-chance points, it was getting them frustrated.”
For the Cougars, that frustration must have really boiled over early in the fourth. Trailing just 57-54, both teams missed a combined six field-goal attempts.
Finally, PCA senior forward Dawson Simerly scored on a layup to make it 59-54 with 6:20 left. But the Cougars had numerous chances to get to within one, but could not cash in.
Later in the frame, Garden City senior guard Colin McHugh hit a trey to get the Cougars to within 61-59.
Closing it out
But, true to the way the year has unfolded for Morton’s team (4-13), Malcolm came down the floor and answered with a 3-ball.
Okolo sealed the deal with a mix of putbacks and rebounds to keep the Cougars at bay.
Still, there were bright spots for Garden City. Junior forward Cameron Walter scored 17 points, and senior forward Brad Russell chipped in with 16.
Russell kept the Cougars in the ballgame in the third quarter with a pair of treys, each time getting his team back to within four.
Chipping in with 10 points was senior guard Jacob Sadowski, with junior forwards Houssam Hazime and Darius Benson tallying eight and seven points, respectively.
“Cameron (Walter) played well, so did Jacob Sadowski, and I thought Brad Russell shot the ball from three really well,” Morton said. “He’s been one of our best perimeter shooters so far this year.”
Windle added that getting a win against a Class A team should be “good for us” in the confidence department moving forward.
“We want to get to the point where we can play the Plymouths, Cantons and Salems,” Windle said. “Right now they won’t give us a second look.
“… Hopefully as we grow as a program we can get those opportunities.”