The first-ever high school varsity boys basketball game played in Houston’s new gymnasium proved to be quite a memorable event.
In a wild, hard-fought affair on Tuesday night, Houston beat Cuba 42-37. But the host Tigers had to dig deep to pull off the victory, trailing throughout much of the contest before taking the lead late in the fourth quarter and holding on from there.
Houston actually got off to a fast start and led 6-2 after a trio of baskets in the low blocks by senior guard Noah Gulick. The Tigers held a 9-6 advantage at the end of the first quarter, but the visiting Wildcats went on an 11-0 run and were ahead 17-9 after junior forward Dylan Beal sank a shot from short range with 4:30 left in the period.
Senior guard Tanner Lee ended the run by draining a 3-pointer, and Houston regrouped and trailed 19-15 at halftime. The Tigers were fortunate to be down by only 4 at the break, as they went a dismal 2-for-12 from the free throw line in the first half, missed numerous open shots from varying distances and all-too-frequently turned the ball over.
Things looked bleak for Houston in the third period, as Cuba opened with a 5-0 run and led 27-19 going into the final 8 minutes.
But then the Tigers finally found their rhythm and heated up big-time, scoring 23 points by sinking 6 field goals and connecting on 10-of-15 attempts from the charity stripe.
Gulick and 6-3 junior guard Brody McNew led the charge, with McNew knocking down two 3-pointers and pouring in 10 points in the quarter, while Gulick scored 7, including a pair of free throws that sealed the deal with 5.5 seconds remaining.
Gulick finished with a career-high 15 points, while McNew also had 15.
“It was a struggle to say the least for the first three quarters,” said HHS head coach Jim Moore. “Cuba was physical with us and we didn’t do a great job of adjusting soon enough. We didn’t shoot the ball well from the field and were awful from the line in those quarters. We have to be better in those two areas.”
Senior center Dylan Keogh topped Cuba in scoring with 23 points, while none of his teammates had more than 5.
The Tigers countered their turnover rate and low shooting percentage by constantly applying strong defense and making sure to rebound missed shots on both ends of the floor.
“We talk daily about the two things we can control as being our attitude and effort,” Moore said. “Defense and rebounding are about attitude and effort. We know if we do those two things night in and night out, we’re going to be competitive and in position to win our share of games.
“Our defense and rebounding kept us in the game until our offense finally showed up in the fourth quarter. I was really proud of our effort in these two categories.”
Tempers flared more than once down the stretch, and at one point Houston had two players lying on the floor at the same time after hard contact. But the Tigers maintained their composure and gained the momentum, and with the home crowd raising the roof, ultimately pulled out their first win of the season.
“We were able to pick up the tempo of the game and make Cuba play our style instead of us playing the way they wanted,” Moore said. “We were able to pressure the guards and cause a few turnovers and quick shots which led to some transition baskets for us.
“We also finally hit some shots. That makes a world of difference.”
A DEADLY LONG-RANGE BARRAGE
In Monday’s season-opener at county rival Licking, the Tigers fell 69-58.
The host Wildcats went wild from deep in the contest, sinking 15 3-pointers – including 10 in the first half.
After Houston led 12-11 at the end of the first quarter, Licking took control by adding 27 points in the second period to hold a 38-27 advantage at halftime. The scoring outburst was powered by sophomore Keyton Cook, who drilled four treys in the period, and senior Christopher Bartling, who nailed two from behind the arc.
“Licking shot the ball really well from 3,” Moore said. “We gave them too many open looks, but they hit some shots with hands in their face as well. We have to be better at running shooters off the 3-point line when they’re shooting it as well as Licking did.”
The Tigers had their chances in the second half, but missed shots and turnovers were again a problem. Houston pulled to within 4 points and had possession of the ball late in the fourth quarter, but a turnover crushed any hopes of cutting the deficit even further.
Junior point guard Garyn Hall went 10-for-11 from the free throw line in the contest and led Houston in scoring with 12 points. McNew scored 11 for the Tigers, while junior guard Dakota James had a career-high 9 and Gulick added 7.
Cook led Licking in scoring with a game-high 23 points, while sophomore Austin James had 16 (including four 3-pointers) and Bartling finished with 8 (all in the second quarter).
“I liked that we never quit,” Moore said. “We played all four quarters and competed to the end. We didn’t play our best game by far, but found a way to still be in the game at the end.
“We showed some resilience and feel like we learned from this game. Hopefully we will be a little better each time we take the floor.”
The Tigers (1-1) hosted Eminence on Tuesday of this week and will be in the field at next week’s annual Mansfield Invitational Tournament.
“I’m proud of my team,” Moore said. “We have a lot of things to work on, but we have shown improvement in our program compared to this time last year. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season and making the most of every opportunity we get.”
To view a photo gallery from the Tigers’ game against Cuba (with the option to purchase photos), click here.