In this file photo, Van Wert senior Matt Bidlack drives to the hoops in a early-season game versus Shawnee. Bidlack led the Cougars with 21 points on Saturday night, but Van Wert couldn’t hold off Fort Wayne Carroll, who came from behind for the win. (Times Bulletin file photo)
By Jim Cox
Times Bulletin Correspondent
FORT WAYNE — “There are no moral victories in basketball,” Van Wert coach Mark Bagley is fond of saying. If there were, though, the underdog Cougars (3-4) would’ve had one Saturday night at Carroll.
After trailing through the first three quarters, the Chargers (7-3) broke a tie in the last three and a half minutes and held on for a 59-54 win.
Carroll is a 4A (largest class in Indiana) school and was coming off of a victory over highly-touted Marion in last week’s Carroll Holiday Hoops Shootout. The Chargers have only one senior on their roster, and he didn’t play against Van Wert. Carroll’s coach, Marty Beasley, was the college roommate of Bagley at Taylor University, which is how this matchup came about.
The smaller and less-athletic Cougars came out firing on all cylinders, albeit in a slow-paced game that suited Bagley just fine.
The momentum didn’t turn until late in the third quarter. Van Wert led 43-36 when Carroll junior Chandler White took over. The Division I prospect scored the next seven points. He hit two free throws, and, after a Cougar turnover, drained a three from the right corner to cut the lead to 43-41 after three. He started the fourth quarter by banking in a turnaround six-footer from in front — that was the first time the home team had caught up.
After another Van Wert turnover, Carroll’s 6-6 sophomore, Kyle Mallers, muscled in a layup to get the Chargers’ first lead, 45-43, at the 6:46 mark. Cougar sophomore Drew Myers countered with two freebies to tie it at 45. Mallers split a pair at the stripe to get the lead back, 46-45, but Van Wert senior Matt Bidlack hit both of his free throws to give the scarlet-and-gray its last lead, 47-46, with 5:21 left.
The Chargers helped the Cougars out by missing a front-end, and, after another Cougar turnover, splitting a pair at the line to tie it at 47. However, Van Wert turned it over again, and 6-4 junior Jeremy Kalonji’s put-back made it 49-47, Carroll, at 4:31. Cougar junior Connor Holliday drove inside for a game-tying layup at 3:33, but it was all Chargers from then on. Another Van Wert error and three straight misfires resulted in a 6-0 Carroll run that ended the Cougars’ valiant upset bid.
“I really thought there in the third quarter was a huge play where we turned it over and they (White) hit a three at the buzzer,” said Bagley. “That was a huge play. That kinda changed the complexion. Start of the fourth, then, they got out in a little bit of a transition and it kinda snowballed.”
Van Wert started the game with a 7-0 run, coming on a Bidlack three from the left wing, Bidlack layup (assist Michael Smelser) and Holliday eight-foot banker. Jeremy Kalonji’s two free throws and White’s layup cut it to 7-4, but Van Wert senior Kyle Keber was fouled beyond the arc and hit all three freebies to lead 10-4. It was 13-6 after one.
Carroll got as close as three — 20-17 — in the second quarter, but the feisty Cougars again responded, this time with a 6-0 spurt to lead by nine at 26-17. Kalonji’s nine second-quarter points, however, had the Chargers within five at the half.
Carroll inched closer in the third, closing to within 38-36 at the 2:18 mark, but, again, Van Wert responded. Senior sharpshooter Nathan Stoller rattled in a three from the right corner, and Bidlack hit an eight-foot turnaround jumper to make it 43-36, Cougs, at 1:32. That, however, was when the momentum turned 180 degrees.
“(Carroll) is a very good team,” added Bagley. “I thought our guys responded very well. I’m really pleased and proud of how our guys played, but I told them there are no moral victories. I thought we did a lot of good things tonight, but there are a lot of things we can get better on as we head toward 2014. This game will help us down the road if we can build on it.”
The Chargers out-shot the Cougars from the field 56 percent (18-of-32) to 47 percent (16-of-34). The visitors’ only cold quarter, however, was the 3-for-10 fourth. Similarly, the Cougars handled Carroll’s relentless defense well until the fourth period when they turned it over six times. For the game as a whole, Van Wert had 15 turnovers, while Carroll committed only 10. Rebounds were even at 19 apiece. Free throws, too, were key with Carroll hitting only 58 percent, but going to the line 34 times and hitting 20. Van Wert was much more accurate at 70 percent (16-of-23).
Bidlack led Van Wert’s scoring with 21. White and Kalonji had 24 and 17 for Carroll.
The Carroll junior varsity (5-3) outscored Van Wert 26-8 in the second half to pull out a 46-29 win. Gavin Gardner and Ryan McCracken were the leading scorers for Van Wert (4-3). Jacob Redding, Alex Smothermon and Blake Jackson led the Chargers.
Score by quarters:
Carroll 6 18 17 18- 59
Van Wert 13 16 14 11- 54
Carroll (59) individual scoring
Graham 7, White 24, Jeffrey Kalonji 5, Mallers 6, Jeremy Kalonji 17, Hammond 0, Gilbert 0, Brown 0.
Van Wert (54) individual scoring
Smelser 2, Kyle Keber 6, Bidlack 21, Holliday 9, Myers 7, Stoller 6, Moreland 3, Nick Keber 0.