Game-winning defensive stops may not receive as much recognition as game-winning shots in a basketball game’s final seconds.
But games like this one proved they should.
After a double overtime victory over Newport on Monday night, the Conner Cougars boys basketball team (14-6) hit the road to Independence to face the Simon Kenton Pioneers (14-7). Conner battled back from 14 down in the third quarter to take a 72-71 lead with 17.7 seconds left when senior point guard Landen Hamilton buried a three from the left corner.
But the Cougars still needed a final defensive stand to hold after Conner deflected the ball out of bounds with 6.4 seconds left. Simon Kenton sophomore point guard Jay Bilton in-bounded the ball from beneath the Conner basket to junior guard Travis Krohman, who finished with 27 points, in the right corner. But Conner senior Dalton Kramer stayed with Krohman the entire sequence and prevented a final shot preserving the 72-71 Conner win.
“In the huddle, (the coaches) were like, ‘It’s going to 1 (Krohman). Get a stop,” Kramer said. “When he got the ball and drove middle, I knew he was going up so I swiped down and took the ball. At halftime and before the game, we’re always talking about pushing through adversity.”
Conner entered the game 0-3 playing the second of two games in two days this year. Cougars coach Matthew Otte said he was not sure if the win over Newport on Monday had an effect on the Cougars early.
“We told them we have to have the best communication we’ve had all night,” said Otte. “Make sure we don’t lose somebody on a screen and I thought we defended the initial underneath out of bounds very well. It was all (Kramer) there. The kids responded to the quick scouting report that we had to go over before the game. It’s all them coming ready to play. We talk about that mentality part all the time.”
The four senior guards did all the scoring for the Cougars taking all but two of the team’s 42 shots. All four came into the week averaging in double figures and all four once again reached the mark as Conner made 26 of 42 shots for 62 percent including 11 of 19 from three-point range for 58 percent.
Landen Hamilton led the comeback for the Cougars scoring 30 points, which is the same number of points his junior sister Anna scored just more than 18 miles to the northeast helping the Conner girls to a 64-62 win at Highlands. Hamilton hit 5-of-6 three-point tries including three in the fourth quarter.
“Our experience really kicked in,” Hamilton said. “We got seven seniors so we know when to really turn it on, especially against a really good team.”
Kramer scored above his average coming into the week making four three-pointers on his way to 19 points for Conner. Teammates Ayden Lohr and Daniel Campbell followed with 12 and 11, respectively, making one 3-pointer each.
Conner junior forward Ben Fay may not have scored, but Fay had a huge responsibility guarding Simon Kenton’s 7-foor-3-inch center and Youngstown State University commit Gabe Dynes. Dynes finished with 12 points and was held off the offensive glass for the majority of the night.
“We knew we were going to have to do as much as we could to keep (Dynes) away from the basket and make his shots more difficult,” Fay said. “That’s where he’s most dangerous because he’s just so big.”
Simon Kenton also saw four players reach double figures. Senior guard Isaac Gabbard scored 14 and Bilton scored 10 as the Pioneers made nine three-pointers.
“It doesn’t matter who you play. You just have to compete at a high level and execute,” said Trent Steiner, Simon Kenton head coach. “Conner has a bunch of seniors and a lot of experience. It showed.”
Neither team led by more than two points in the first quarter. Simon Kenton scored eight straight to break at 32-all tie after Bilton hit a lay-up with 16.2 seconds left. But Campbell scored just before the buzzer to end the first half with the Pioneers up 40-34.
Simon Kenton started the second half with an 8-0 run when Krohman and Gabbard hit consecutive threes to build a 48-34 lead with 5:38 left in the third quarter. But Conner chipped away at the lead. Campbell hit a three from the left wing just before the buzzer to trim the Simon Kenton lead to 56-50.
The Cougars did earn more fastbreak opportunities in the second half knowing it would be hard to penetrate and dish in the half-court against Simon Kenton’s 2-3 matchup zone with Dynes in the middle. Hamilton hit a three-point play with 3:19 left on a fast-break to bring the Cougars within one at 65-64.
“It was key. But you got the fastbreak points because you started stringing stops together,” Otte said. “Your defense has to create your offense. It can’t be the other way around because there are going to be nights where you don’t make shots. I thought early in the game, we moved the ball, got cuts against the zone. Then we got stagnant. That’s what they took advantage of. Then at the end, we started moving the ball, cutting, using ball fakes and getting ourselves open.”
Campbell Tied the game at 66 with 2:27 left after Dynes hit a free throw. But the Pioneers built the lead back to four at 70-66 with 1:08 remaining when Krohman and Bilton made two free throws each.
But Fay hit Hamilton in the right corner with 39.5 seconds left to make it 70-69 Pioneers. Sophomore forward Brayden Polly hit 1 of 2 free throws with 28.3 seconds left to give Simon Kenton a 71-69 advantage setting up Hamilton and Kramer’s heroics.
“I thought we did not make the best decisions at times,” Steiner said. “I thought (the Cougars) started playing more aggressive than we did. Panic is not the right word. But they did not want to lose. They turned up the intensity and we didn’t handle it very well.”
Simon Kenton travels to Gallatin County (8-11) on Friday for a 7:30 p.m. game. Conner does not play again until Feb. 3 against state-ranked No. 7 Mason County (21-2) at 7:30 p.m.
Other Boys Basketball Scores
Bellevue 66, Heritage Academy 56
Villa Madonna 55, Calvary Christian 37
Ludlow 80, Dayton 63
Lloyd Memorial 52, Dixie Heights 48
Ryle 72, Gallatin County 63
Scott 69, Boone County 61
Williamstown 84, Holmes 57
Walton-Verona 60, Henry County 36
Senior wing Grace Brewer scored her career 1,000th point leading the Bearcats (10-11) to a third straight win.
Walton-Verona travels to Dixie Heights (16-6) on Friday for a 6 p.m. game.
Girls Basketball Scores
Campbell County 80, Harrison County 38
Scott 64, Beechwood 52
Dixie Heights 75, Lloyd Memorial 34
Newport Central Catholic 57, Newport 20