Van Wert senior Matt Bidlack is shown getting the ball inside in this file photo. Bidlack and his Cougar teammates claimed a solid road win at Bryan on Saturday to move to 5-6 on the season. (TB file photo)
By Sean LaFontaine
Times Bulletin Correspondent
BRYAN — After a tough two-point loss to the Elida Bulldogs on Friday night, the Van Wert Cougars hit the snowy roads and headed north Saturday night to take on the Bryan Golden Bears. In a back-and-fourth fast paced game, the Cougars outlasted the Golden Bears for a 67-56 non-conference victory.
With Van Wert trailing 15-11 late in the first period, senior Elijah Wortman got an easy basket off a Conner Holliday assist, then Nathan Stoller hit a three on the following possession to give the Cougars a 16-15 lead. Joey Moreland was fouled just before the buzzer and hit one of his two free throws to put Van Wert up 17-15 after the first quarter.
A Kyle Keber three to begin the second quarter extended the Cougar lead to five. Bryan answered with a basket on the following possession, but then Holliday hit another three to push the Cougar lead to six.
The Golden Bears went on a 6-2 run to close the Cougar lead to 25-23, but Van Wert answered thanks to a three-point basket and two free throws by Matt Bidlack. Both teams played evenly though the rest of the quarter and Van Wert went into the locker room with a 36-29 lead at halftime.
The Cougars again got the quarter off to a good start, this time on a Michael Smelser three. Bidlack added a basket a few possessions later to make the Cougar lead 41-29. They maintained their 11-point lead through three minutes to go in the third before the Golden Bears stormed back.
Bryan outscored the Cougars 10-4 to close out the third quarter, which left Van Wert with a 51-46 lead going into the last period.
Van Wert started the final period on a 7-2 run. Smelser started the scoring with a three-point basket. After Bryan hit a jump shot, Bidlack and Holliday hit back-to-back baskets to give Van Wert the 58-48 lead.
The Golden Bears had no more runs left in them and Van Wert closed out the game and sealed the 67-56-road victory.
After the game Van Wert head coach Mark Bagley spoke about his team’s performance.
“Our guys were, quite frankly, devastated last night. You never know how kids will respond, but I knew in our locker room tonight we were loose and ready to go, but I’m really proud of kids for how they responded to a difficult loss last night.”
Van Wert shot well from the floor on Saturday night. The Cougars were 21-for-43 (49 percent) from the floor including a solid 8-for-19 (42 percent) from three.
“We shoot a lot of threes in practice and in the off-season and we really pride ourselves in being skilled and being able to shoot the basketball,” said Bagley. “We haven’t always done it this year, but when we make threes it opens up things inside for Matt (Bidlack) and Drew (Myers) and it makes us a more balanced team. We have five guys averaging seven to 10 points and that’s why we are hard to guard; we make shots.”
Bidlack led the way for the Cougars with 19 points, while Holliday and Smelser added 16 and 12, respectively.
The victory improved the Cougars to 5-6 on the season.
Score by quarters
Van Wert - 17 19 15 16 - 67
Bryan - 15 14 17 10 - 56
Van Wert (67)
Smelser 12, Soller 3, Keber 8, Bidlack 19, Holliday 16, Moreland 4, Myers 3, Wortman 2
Culer 16, T. Martin 6, Schimmoeller 4, A. Martin 9, Hug 2, Rupp 15, Thiel 4