Tuesday, February 27, 2024

University vs. Maple Heights boys basketball: Preppers drain 13 3s, hang on for 72-71 win

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In the first quarter, University couldn’t buy a bucket against Maple Heights in a Great Lakes Classic clash at Cleveland Heights. For the majority of the first frame, the Preppers’ lone points came on an Alec Congdon free throw and a layup.

But as the game turned to the second, University found it shot. To the tune of 13 3-pointers, the Preppers led by double figures going to the fourth.

Maple Heights shot its way back into the game and a late corner 3 cut University’s to one. But the Preppers let the clock run out before needing to inbound for the 72-71 victory.

The win pushes University to 2-0.

Maple Heights controlled the paint early on. The Mustangs limited the second-chance looks for University, which coach Sean McDonnell stressed in the huddle before the second quarter.

With the Mustangs’ length, McDonnell said it would be paramount for his team to maximize its looks.

“We were taking good shots and they just weren’t falling,” McDonnell said. “We believe in our guys and we show a lot of grit and resolve to continue batting in that game. We were stuck on three points for a while. I’m proud of our guys and how they battled not just against Maple but to get things going as a unit.”

The Preppers were down their leading scorer from last season as Justin Belcher recovers from a concussion. But Josh Belcher and Congdon picked up the slack.

Congdon led the way for University with 22 points while Josh Belcher added 12. He found success driving against Maple Heights’ size on the inside.

“One thing we’re all trying to focus on is even when shots aren’t falling, you have to focus on effort and aggression,” Congdon said. “That’s what we tried to focus on today and especially on the defensive side. We had to find traps, speed them up and that worked out. Sooner or later the shots were going to start falling.”

University forced 17 turnovers.

Duke Brennan and Johnny Diaz finished in double figures as well with with 12 points each. Brennan hit a corner 3 before the halftime buzzer that gave the lead back to University.

As the game wore on, time and again the Preppers turned to Brennan for the right play or to get them situated. McDonnell knows that his court awareness gave the Preppers the confidence to battle back into the game.

“Duke is an incredible leader and an unbelievable competitor,” McDonnell said. “Whether it’s basketball or checkers, Duke is always a good guy to bet on. We didn’t panic and showed a lot of resolve. We eventually got the momentum and swung things in our favor.”

Maple Heights continued to battle its way back into the contest with the duo of Kenyon Giles and Da’Van Anion. Aniton led the way with 20 points, but only four came after the half.

Giles’ ability to run the floor and get quick baskets allowed for the Mustangs to make it an eight-point game late.

With the lead shrinking, Congdon and the Preppers showed little signs of concern. They saw timely buckets from whoever was called on.

“The team knew we all needed to step up,” Congdon said. “Especially with our best player in Justin out. We had to focus on playing hard today and our guys came together for that. We saw all nine guys ready for whatever was thrown at them.”

He recorded a layup late in the contest that pushed the Preppers’ lead to six. Then after a Maple Heights three, Deacon Nelson split a pair of free throws that made it a two-possession game with under 10 seconds left.

The Mustangs hit a corner three that made it the one point margin, but rather than pick up the ball and hand it to the official, Brennan watched it roll and the time expired.

University looks for its third win of the season when it travel to Shaker Heights on Dec. 8

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