Pilots pull away from ‘Rocks

T-L Photo/KIM NORTH RIVER’S JOHN Murphy goes up for two of his six points Tuesday night as River defeated Barnesville, 65-45. Looking on for the Shamrocks is Aaron Marovich, left.

HANNIBAL — Following a first half that featured eight ties and 11 lead changes, homestanding River amped up the defensive pressure full tilt in the second half to pull away from Barnesville in boys’ high school basketball action inside R.L. Potts Gymnasium.

The Pilots, who trailed 27-24 at the break after Luke Powell drained a long three as time wound down, outscored the Shamrocks (1-1) by a 19-5 count in the decisive third quarter.

“I thought our defense was excellent. We hang our hat on that,” veteran River head coach Mark Romick acknowledged. “I’m going to tell you what, that’s a nice ball team we just beat.”

Powell connected at the 5-minute, 56-second of the third quarter to give Barnesville a 29-26 advantage, but the Shamrocks wouldn’t record another basket until he goaled again in the waning moments. The Green-clad visitors went nearly 13 minutes (12:56) without a bucket.

“We went a long time between baskets,” Barnesville head coach Matt Johnson said. “When you go that long with a bucket, you’re not going to win. We didn’t make shots. That’s the bottom line.

“I thought we did a decent job of attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line, but you’ve got to knock down some shots in this game if you’re going to have any success.”

Michael Johnson sparked the River turnaround offensively. The sophomore netted 23 of his game-best and career-high 31 points after the intermission, including 10 in the third quarter when the Pilots took the lead for good.

That came on a Johnson jumper from the right wing with 4:50 on the third-quarter clock.

“Michael played really well,” Romick allowed. “He kind of took over there for awhile in the second half, but he’s capable of that. We’ve got 4-5 kids that are capable of leading us in scoring on any given night. Tonight is was Michael’s turn.”

One of the defining moments of the contest came at the end of the third quarter in with River holding a 41-32 advantage.

“We dove for loose balls three times as time was running out. We finally came up with it and lay it in before the buzzer,” Romick recalled. “That’s the kind of kids we have. They play relentless like that. They know they have to play defense every night out to give themselves a chance to win.

“Luke Powell is a handful, but Carter Dennis did a super job on him tonight,” Romick noted. “We had other guys that helped out, but Carter was on him most of the time.”

Powell finished with a team-leading 25 despite spending some time on the bench with foul troubles late in the third quarter and early into the fourth. He also had nine rebounds and charted five steals. Tate Dowler had a dozen markers.

“We’re still in the process of not trusting each other when we get it in the lane and then kick it out,” Johnson added. “We were on the high last Friday (a 1-pt. win over Buckeye Trail) and now we’re on the low. We’ve got to get back to work tomorrow. Every mistake we made out there is fixable. So it’s just up to us to back in the gym and fix it.”

In addition to Johnson’s 31, Colton Lawrence and Jason Deaton evenly split 14 while John Murphy and James Hendershot had six each.

Murphy also pulled down eight boards as River led 33-24 off the glass. The Pilots also had more turnovers at 16-14, but 10 of the Shamrocks came in the fateful second half.