Generals find positives in loss to Flames

QUICKSBURG — Stonewall Jackson head boys basketball coach Patrick Smoot finally saw something to build upon in Monday’s home game against Eastern Mennonite.

The Generals’ losing streak got stretched to seven games as the Flames used some key free throws late in the fourth period to sink Stonewall Jackson, 54-52, but Smoot saw a determination from his team in the loss that had been absent in the Generals’ first six games of the season.

“I thought for the first time this year our kids actually showed great effort, really got after them,” Smoot said. “We pressed and we got some easy buckets there. We actually ran. Now we’ve just got to put it all together.”

Stonewall Jackson (0-7) led 24-22 at halftime but couldn’t maintain the advantage in the second half as the Flames (4-3) cashed in on high-percentage shots inside the paint over the final two periods.

Eastern Mennonite, which shot 52 percent in the second half, opened the third quarter with a 9-2 run that built a five-point lead for the Flames. Stonewall Jackson responded by briefly taking a 32-31 lead following a fast-break bucket by Kaelan Sorrells and a 3-pointer by Ryan Smith, but the Flames reclaimed the lead for good on Lukas Petersheim’s interior basket with 3:15 left in the third period.

“We got the lead in the third quarter by hitting high-percentage shots, attacking the basket,” Flames head coach Dave Bechler said. “They actually got back into the game by our inability to make free throws earlier in that half. Now, we did turn it over, which gave them another opportunity to cut into the lead but we did make a couple free throws there that last time when we actually needed to.”

Eastern Mennonite took its largest lead of the night, 43-37, with six minutes remaining on a short jumper in the key by Silas Driver, but the Generals quickly stormed back behind 3-pointers by junior Nathan Miller and Smith, the latter of which cut Eastern Mennonite’s lead to 45-43 with 4:42 left.

The Flames pushed their lead back out to five points later in the period but again Stonewall Jackson responded. Senior Kory Somers knocked down a mid-range jumper and Miller was good on a pair of free throws to pull the Generals within 51-50 with 41 seconds to play.

A free throw by Eastern Mennonite’s Chad Lehman gave the Flames a two-point lead 10 seconds later, and Miller nearly gave the Generals a late lead with a 3-point attempt following a drive and kick by point guard Ian Pugh. Miller’s open shot from the top of the arc hit the back of the rim.

“You couldn’t ask for a better look,” said Miller, who led the Generals with 18 points. “It was crystal clear, no one on me. That’s something you’ve got to hit.”

Lehman made two more free throws with 12 seconds remaining to give Eastern Mennonite a four-point lead. Stonewall Jackson’s slim hopes for another rally closed when Pugh’s rushed 3-point attempt missed well short. Somers was able to gather the ball and score under the basket with several seconds remaining, but time ran out before before the ball was thrown back inbounds.

“We drew it up, we tried to get them to look and see what was going on. We may not have got the best look that we wanted but we had our opportunities before all that,” Smoot said of a Generals team that shot 50 percent (7 for 14) from the free-throw line and turned the ball over 14 times. “… We had opportunities before that last second and it shouldn’t have came down to that.”

Eastern Mennonite did well defensively to limit Pugh, who finished with just one point in the loss. However, several Generals helped pick up the slack on the offensive end. Somers finished with 11 points, while Sorrells and Smith each had eight points apiece in addition to Miller’s 18.

“Ian didn’t have necessarily the night that he’s used to, but we had other guys that had pretty good nights and kept us right there with it, which shows, now we get him going and we could be something,” Smoot said. “Get everybody on the same page at the same time and let’s see where it takes us.”

The Flames had three players in double-digit scoring on Monday, as Petersheim’s 14 points led a group that also included Stephen Kauffman (12 points) and Lehman (10).

Though Eastern Mennonite’s post game gave Stonewall Jackson trouble, the Generals did operate effectively in their full-court man press, a defensive move that may have helped Stonewall maintain its intensity for all four quarters.

“I think it helped a lot. It was probably the first time we also showed a good press throughout the whole game,” Miller said. “We ran it effectively. Might not have gotten turnovers, but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. It kept up the hustle, kept guys in the game.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com