Friday night’s matchup between longtime rivals Delaware Hayes and Big Walnut went right down to the final two minutes as the visiting Pacers, who led by as many as 14 points with 1:53 to play, held on for a 54-44 Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division victory in Sunbury.
The Pacers, relying on solid defense and control of the boards, made their first move in the third quarter, closing out the period with a 9-3 surge behind the inside scoring of 6-foot-5 junior forward Khalil Iverson to take a 12-point, 34-22 lead into the final eight minutes. That momentum carried into the fourth period as Hayes (3-2, 1-2 OCC) stretched its advantage to 14 points at 39-25 on senior guard Philip Frentsos’ three-pointer with 5:16 remaining.
Big Walnut (1-2, 0-1), behind a trio of successive threes from 5-10 junior Matt Tarney, 6-3 sophomore Josh Seabrook and 6-1 senior Logan Boyd, was knocking on the door just minutes later, though, closing the gap to 43-36 with 2:23 left. Six-five junior Zac Asher followed with a layin off a drive before Tarney’s free throw had the Golden Eagles within four of the lead at 43-39 with 1:53 showing on the clock.
“Our kids battled back … they played hard to the end,” Big Walnut head coach Eric Myers said. “While Hayes did a good job defensively by taking away our inside game early, we answered with threes, especially in the fourth quarter, to make a run at the lead … we just came up short at the end.”
Hayes rallied down the stretch, making good on 8 of 12 free throws to take a 51-44 lead with half a minute left to play. Alex Stevens, the Pacers’ 6-8 senior forward, closed out the scoring with a basket for the 53-44 final.
“We played solid defense early and led by as many as 14 early on in the final quarter,” Hayes assistant coach Kelly Holly said after the game. “But Big Walnut did not back down. They hung tough and made a run at the lead, but our guys were equal to the challenge and put the game away by making free throws and tightening up our defense … it’s always tough to win on the road in the OCC, and tonight was no different.”
Pacer head coach Jordan Blackburn was not on the sidelines for the contest as his wife went into labor early Friday and presented the couple with a son.
“Hayes is a good basketball team with good outside shooting and inside size, and with that size advantage they hurt us on the boards,” Myers noted. “At the end, after we closed to within four of the lead with 1:53 to play, they sealed the game with some timely free-throw shooting.”
Stevens and Iverson led Hayes in scoring with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Chipping in with 9 points apiece were 6-3 junior guard Noble Moore, with three treys, and Jante’ Wright. Senior captain Tyler Treese contributed seven points. Boyd led Big Walnut with a game-high 13 points while Asher followed with 12 points. Tarney followed with 7 and Seabrook with 6 points, joining Boyd with a pair of three-pointers apiece.
On the boards, Hayes, led by Iverson’s 8 rebounds, claimed a 36-22 margin. Moore followed with 5 and Stevens with 4. Kyle Gose, BW’s 5-8 junior cleared off 5 missed shots for the hosts. Asher followed with 4 caroms. In turnovers, the Pacers turned the ball over 12 times in 44 possessions, a 27.3 percent turnover rate, while losing 9 points. The Golden Eagles committed only 7 turnovers in 49 possessions, a 14.3 turnover percentage at the cost of 7 points.