Normally known for offense, Bluebirds defense gets the job done late in win over Lloyd

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Highlands knows they can pretty much score with anybody.

The third highest scoring offense in the state proves that point.

But Kevin Listerman and his team knows in order for the Bluebirds to be successful in late February, early March, they have to get it done on the other end.

The Bluebirds (21-6) were able to accomplish that on Tuesday night in a 75-68 victory over Lloyd Memorial (14-8), getting some revenge on the Juggernauts who ended their season in the Ninth Region tournament last season.

“We’ve been talking about if you want to make the run in March that you have to be able to sit down and guard. Our guys did a great job tonight of handling the game plan and being in the right spots, and I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Listerman said.

After seeing a 15-point second half lead slip away down to a 63-62 advantage, the Bluebirds were able to string together multiple stops as they went on a 10-1 run to put the game away for good, a road victory in which they needed to handle adversity.

“Showing that we can play in this type of game was more important than what they did to us last year and what happened in the past. Showing that we could play in a big time game against a top team in this region and execute both ends of the floor like we did was big,” Listerman said.

Seth Ryan was the driving force in the victory, finishing with 25 points, including a big stretch in the third for the Bluebirds in which he scored 12 points during a Highlands 18-4 run to get their lead to 52-37.

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“They’re a really aggressive team and you can really tell that with their coach, so we knew we had come out strong in the second half. We owed them a game so we had to fight hard. When I can facilitate and get the ball to our shooters, that just frees up so much in the middle and it’s easy to get downhill with how much space there is,” Ryan said.

But Northern Kentucky University signee Jeremiah Israel wasn’t about to go down lightly. With his future coach Darrin Horn in attendance, Israel went ultra-aggressive in the fourth. He started the quarter with seven points and finished the game with a team-high 21 points. Israel scored seven points during a Juggernauts 15-5 run to get them within one, but Lloyd didn’t have much in the tank from there.

“We’re battle tested. We fought. Probably should have used a couple timeouts there, but I kind of just wanted to see what our guys would do. I could have called a timeout and did more gameplanning, but I told them to suck it up and let’s see what happens,” Juggernauts coach Mike Walker said.

It ends a strong stretch of play in which Lloyd won seven of eight, including five in a row entering Tuesday’s contest.

“I think they wanted it more because of last year. Our guys came out kind of flat,” Walker said. “We needed that loss. Won seven of our last eight and we were kind of smelling ourselves a little bit.”

One of the reasons for the recent surge has been getting complimentary efforts outside of Israel and EJ Walker, Isaiah Sebastian and Elijah Collins helping fill in those roles. While Walker finished with 11, Sebastian poured in 14, Joe Cooley with 10 including two 3-pointers early in the game.

Anthony Blaackar finished with nine, Collins with three as they’ll return to action on Saturday at defending state champ George Rogers Clark.

“Earlier in the year, we didn’t have that third or fourth scorer and they’re starting to emerge to make us a more complete team. A lot of those guys are football guys, so it took them a while to get in basketball shape. I love where we’re at,” Walker said.

Highlands built a 19-13 lead after one and went into halftime up 34-27 after Nathan Vinson’s coast-to-coast drive and layup.

Lloyd came out of the half with a 6-0 run before the Bluebirds 18-4 run to help separate.

Will Herald chipped in 18 for the Bluebirds, hitting four 3-pointers. Nathan Vinson added 16, Brody Benke contributing nine points and had the task of helping keep the Juggernauts off the offensive glass.

“We’ve been talking a lot the last few days where the number one thing is taking care of the defensive glass and we’ve really done a good job with that. Big credit goes to Brody Benke. I thought he set the tone and really cleaned things up. And then our guards Nathan Vinson, Brayden Moeves, they went back and clean things up off the glass. So those guys get a ton of credit for that, especially setting the tone early,” Listerman said.

Highlands hosts Conner on Friday in what should be another good gauge for the Bluebirds as they approach the postseason.

HIGHLANDS –19-15-18-23 — 75

LLOYD — 13-14-13-28 — 68

Highlands (75) – Ryan 25, Herald 18, Vinson 16, Benke 9, Moeves 5, Class 2

Lloyd (68) – Israel 21, Sebastian 14, Walker 11, Cooley 10, Blaackar 9, Collins 3

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