GASTON - The Blue River Valley boys basketball team ended the regular season with a loss. But the Vikings had a learning point in that loss that they hope can lead to success in the postseason.
The Vikings played to their potential after halftime Friday night at Wes-Del, and it was almost enough to produce a victory. But the Warriors made a clutch shot in the final seconds for a 65-63 Mid-Eastern Conference victory.
“We didn’t make the winning plays,” Viking coach Brian Klein said. “We didn’t take care of the basketball. The kid made a tough shot at the end. I don’t know if we could have defended that any better. But we just didn’t make the winning plays.”
But for the most part, Klein liked what he saw from his players in the game’s final 16 minutes.
“I thought our energy and effort was phenomenal in the second half,” he said. “We attacked the glass, we were relentless on the boards. Some 50-50 calls didn’t go our way. I thought our kids competed like crazy in that second half, and we’ve got to bottle that and be able to do that for 32 minutes. Because I didn’t think we competed in the first half.”
Yeah, that first half. Wes-Del jumped out to first-quarter leads of 13-2 and 18-5 as the Vikings struggled to get anything going other than accumulating turnovers. Blue River didn’t make a field goal until Wyatt Thornburgh hit a 3-pointer with 3:15 to go in the quarter, and before that basket the Vikings had turnovers on three straight possessions and four out of five possessions.
Wes-Del led 22-8 after one quarter and 33-22 at halftime, a lead that would have been larger if not for another Thornburgh 3 at the buzzer. The Vikings (12-10, 3-6 MEC) committed 12 first-half turnovers and shot just 7-of-26 (27 percent) from the field before halftime.
“The first half we just came out flat,” senior Bryce Klein said. “We weren’t ready to go. They had way more energy than us. The second half, we had more urgency, we knew we had to get it in gear. It wasn’t enough, though.”
That second-half energy included strong inside play and rebounding, especially from Klein and Brevin Hallatt, and more outside shooting from Thornburgh.
Hallatt, who attempted just four shots in the first half and scored three points, was a force inside in the third quarter. Klein and Brian Walradth got things started as the Vikings trimmed the 11-point halftime deficit to 7, 35-28, and then Hallatt scored on back-to-back plays to make it 35-32.
Wes-Del came alive to hang onto the lead, but Thornburgh’s shooting kept on the pressure, and his sixth 3-pointer of the night finally tied the game 45-45, with 2:50 left in the third.
Less than a minute later, two Hallatt free throws gave the Vikings their first lead since 2-0. It was back-and-forth for the final 2 minutes of the third quarter, and after Hallatt picked up his fourth foul, bench players gave the Vikings the lead heading into the fourth, when Jared Catron grabbed an offensive rebound and Hunter Boils hit a bucket for a 51-50 lead.
The fourth quarter was close the whole way, although midway through Blue River opened up a five-point lead trying to close the game. Klein made one of two free throws for a 61-56 lead, but then Wes-Del scored five straight to tie it up with 2 minutes left.
Blue River turned it over twice in that stretch to open the door for the Warriors, and the first of those turnovers came right after the Vikings grabbed a rebound off a Wes-Del missed free throw.
“Tough,” Brian Klein said. “You know, we were up 5 at the line. Got a foul, they went down and made one, missed the second, we got the rebound, and then we turned it over. I thought that might have been the biggest play of the game. And then you know, we need to go to the line and make free throws. We missed the front end of a one-and-one tied 63-63.”
Catron scored inside for the Vikings off a Thornburgh pass for a 63-61 lead with less than two minutes left. But that was the end of Blue River’s points. Joel Dowling scored for Wes-Del to tie the game, and after Blue River’s missed free throw, the Warriors held the ball until Zack Todd scored on a baseline move with 6 seconds remaining. Blue River’s last-ditch effort didn’t go, and the home team celebrated.
“They went and made a play,” Bryce Klein said. “There’s not much more we could do on defense. He went and made a tough underhand layup going out of bounds.”
Thornburgh, playing his fourth game after returning seven months after a knee injury sidelined him, scored a team-high 20 points for the Vikings, and Hallatt added 17. Klein had 9 points and 13 rebounds.
Wes-Del (9-10, 2-7 MEC) was led by Dowling with 22 and Eric Harlan with 21.
Blue River now finds itself waiting for sectional play while many schools have at least one game remaining this week. The Vikings will use the time off in part to become more comfortable playing with each other, including Thornburgh after he sat out most of the season.
“It’s exciting, because as you see the kid can play,” Klein said. “That’s a great thing. It’s just a matter of everybody getting their rhythm, both offense and defense. Understanding strengths and weaknesses. You know, we’re playing a lot of guys. I know we’re late in the year, but I don’t think we’ve had one game where we’ve had everybody, what we thought would be our lineup. It’s kind of been a mix and match, so I think it’s kind of a good thing that we’ve got some time off here so we can work on us, our rhythm and stuff, get back to the basics.”
Blue River played Friday without Devon Guffey, who was in COVID quarantine.
The Vikings’ extended break grew by a few more days after Sunday night’s sectional draw, because Klein’s team drew the bye. BRV will play Tri (4-15) or Union (3-15) in one of Friday’s semifinal games. So Blue River will have a full two weeks between the end of the regular season and the beginning of sectional play.
Wes-Del 65, Blue River Valley 63
BLUE RIVER VALLEY (63)
Klein 3-9 3-6 9, Blackburn 0-1 0-0 0, Walradth 2-7 3-5 7, Hallatt 7-11 3-4 17, Thornburgh 7-17 0-0 20, Boils 1-5 0-0 2, Grim 2-6 0-0 6, Catron 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 23-57 9-15 63.
Dowling 10-13 0-0 22, Harlan 8-15 5-6 21, Whitesell 4-10 4-5 12, Todd 2-5 3-6 7, Light 0-0 0-0 0, Ashley 0-2 0-0 0, Arteaga 0-0 0-0 0, Cardoza 0-2 1-2 1, Cox 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 25-48 13-19 65.
3-point goals – Blue River 8-27 (Thornburgh 6-14, Grim 2-5, Boils 0-3, Klein 0-3, Walradth 0-2), Wes-Del 2-7. Rebounds – Blue River 35 (Klein 13, Hallatt 7, Walradth 6), Wes-Del 23. Total fouls – Blue River 18, Wes-Del 15. Turnovers – Blue River 19, Wes-Del 16. JV score – Wes-Del 46, Blue River 33 (Leonard 15). Records – Blue River 12-10, 3-6 MEC, Wes-Del 9-10, 2-7 MEC.