By Tommy Keeler Jr.
WOODSTOCK -- Warren County boys basketball coach Vernon Mathews decided in the offseason to install the high-scoring, up-tempo Grinnell College offense.
On Saturday night, Mathews saw his team have its best success yet using it, as the Wildcats beat Central, 80-68, in nondistrict action.
"We shot really well tonight, especially from 3-point range," Mathews said. "That's the best we've shot. We still have a long ways to go."
The Wildcats made 15 3-pointers, shooting 38.5 percent (15 for 39) from outside the arc.
Mathews said he talked to James Wood coach Al Smith in the offseason and decided to try the offense, which James Wood also runs.
The offense calls for a very fast-paced game, where you try to shoot a lot of quick baskets, especially from 3-point range. It also calls for a lot of depth as teams usually substitute five players into the game every four or five minutes to try wear the other team down. On defense, teams usually use a full-court press with lots of traps to try to create turnovers.
Mathews said he thought the system would work well for his players.
"We've really struggled my first three years with turning the ball over and not getting a lot of shots up," Mathews said. "So, we thought by pushing the ball down the court at least we get shots up.
"Obviously, the kids love it. Everybody likes to shoot 3's and running. And with this system everybody gets to play, everybody contributes. It's fun to coach, and the kids have fun with it."
The Wildcats (2-3) had their biggest success in the first quarter as they scored 21 points, including going 5 for 11 from 3-point range.
Warren County's Matt Nicholson scored nine of his team-high 29 points in the quarter, to help the Wildcats take a 21-12 lead.
The Falcons (3-3, 1-1 Bull Run) were able to cut the lead to 24-20 with five minutes left in the first half, but the Wildcats responded.
Nicholson hit back-to-back 3-pointers to start a 15-4 run to end the half.
"We started making our shots, because we got open shots," Nicholson said. "We had good screens. Our shooters came off wide open and hit the shots."
The Falcons rallied back in the second half. Central used an 11-5 run to cut the deficit to 40-35 with 4:41 left in the third quarter.
Joey Catalani and Nicholson each hit a 3-pointer during a 12-4 spurt to give the Wildcats a 52-39 lead with 1:38 left in the third quarter.
Central made its best run of the game early in the fourth quarter. The Falcons used a 9-3 spurt to cut the deficit to 57-54 with 6:21 left in the game.
Cooper, who finished with a game-high 36 points, converted a conventional three-point play and gave the Falcons plenty of momentum.
Warren County quickly answered with a basket by Michael Caldwell and a 3-pointer from Catalani. Central came right back with a combined three free throws from Brandon Ritter and Eric Semones to cut the lead to 62-57 with 4:09 remaining in the game.
Warren County's Blake Steele scored on a putback and a quick turnover resulted in a layup for Eric Baker to give Warren County a 66-57 lead with 3:50 left. The Falcons could get no closer than eight points the rest of the way.
"We had two plays in a row that kind of put us in a bind late in the fourth quarter there -- a rebound and a turnover," said Central assistant coach Jered Hoover, who was filling in for head coach Mickey Clinedinst, who was out sick. "Defensively, we didn't rebound the best at times. If we could've rebounded a few more offensive possessions, and given ourselves a chance it would've been a little different game."
Ritter had 14 points for the Falcons, while Semones added 10.
Hoover said he was really happy with the way the Falcons fought back throughout the game.
"I told the guys in the locker room 'I felt good how you responded when we were down,'" Hoover said. "These same group of kids may have had a different outlook when we were down by 15, 12, six weeks ago or a year ago. I told them all I was very proud of how they fought back, got in the game, worked together as a team to make that happen."
Steele had 15 points for the Wildcats, who had 10 different players score during the game.
It was only the second win of the season for the Wildcats, who lost to Central 80-67 earlier this season. The win and the strong shooting night from the outside should give the team confidence moving forward.
"I think if we can have this really clicking by the district schedule we'll be in good shape," Mathews said.
Contact assistant sports editor Tommy Keeler Jr. at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org