Quakers keep the momentum rolling
SALEM — Whether it’s on the football field or the basketball court, Salem junior Niko Walter is money when a game’s on the line.
Walter turned heads with his many punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns last fall on the Quakers’ football team, and on Friday night he doubled his pleasure on the basketball court, grabbing a missed shot by a teammate and calmly putting in a game-winning seven footer from the right side with 1.4 seconds left to lift Salem to a pulsating 38-37 win over Minerva in Cabas Gymnasium.
“I was just doing what my coach always tells me and that’s to get on the boards,” said Walter of his winning rebound basket. “It was a big play, we needed it, and I just did my part,”
“He (Walter) is a playmaker and he made a huge play there, getting the rebound and putting it back in,” smiled Salem head coach Jeff Andres.
With the win, Salem (3-4 overall) has now won three in a row over Alliance, West Branch and Minerva and maintained its first-place lead in the Eastern Buckeye Conference with a record of 3-1. Minerva is 2-7 overall and 2-3 in the EBC.
“In the end we got it done and are 3-1 in the league and in first place — and there’s no place like first place,” beamed Andres.
“We got off to a rough start but winning (three) straight really boosts our confidence,” said Walter. “We feel pretty comfortable with ourselves now. We feel pretty confident no matter who we play.”
Following Walter’s heroics, Minerva called two timeouts, the second which put the Lions at midcourt with possession of the ball with 1.2 seconds left.
Minerva threw the inbounds pass to standout Brice Williams and his three-point attempt bounced off the front of the rim as time expired.
“We got desperate and sometimes when you’re desperate it forces you to play hard,” said Minerva coach Shawn Green of the Lions’ second-half rally which came up just short. “This crew has played hard for us all year and we’re learning some really hard lessons about trials and tribulations and that every possession counts. We’ve been in four straight one-point games.”
Pacing Salem’s attack was guard Josh Young who finished with 18 points, including all four of Salem’s three-pointers, while teammates Turner Johnson and Niko Walter added seven points each.
Leading Minerva was Brice Williams with a game-high 19 points, including a pair of three-pointers while Blake Kirsey added seven points.
“You have to give Salem credit for sticking with it (on the winning putback shot),” said Green. “But I’m proud of our guys because we held Salem to nine points in the second half which is tremendous.”
In the first quarter, Salem’s aggressive defense forced five first-quarter turnovers out of the Lions and Young scored six points (two treys) and Walter added four as Salem took a 13-10 lead after one period.
Young, who had 14 points in the first half, hit his fourth three-pointer of the game in the second period as the Quakers took as much as a 15-point (25-10) advantage. But led by Williams. who had 11 points before intermission, the Lions clawed back to trail 29-19 at intermission.
“We didn’t know what to expect tonight, we had a lot of momentum (with earlier wins before Christmas) but we were off for two weeks,” said Andres. “We predictably played under our capabilities, we played well in the first half, and in the second half, we didn’t, but hey an ugly win’s better than a fancy loss.”
The momentum of the game began to change in the third period. With Salem leading 29-22, Salem’s Johnson, a quick defender on defense and stabilizing influence on offense, went to the bench with three fouls with 6:10 left in the quarter.
With Johnson out of the lineup, Minerva forced six turnovers out of the Quakers and outscored Salem 10-2 the remainder of the quarter to take a 32-31 lead after three.
With Johnson back in the lineup in the fourth quarter, Salem eventually regained the lead when Walter hit a free throw, giving Salem a 36-35 advantage with 2:14 left.
“He (Johnson) is a guy you would call our seasoned vet,” explained Andres. “He makes a difference for us when he’s on the floor, no doubt about it.”
Minerva retook the lead when Blake Kinsey followed up a Minerva missed shot with a rebound basket, giving the Lions a 37-36 lead in the closing 30 seconds.
Following a Salem miss, Minerva had a chance to add to its lead but missed the front end of a one-and-one with 14.8 seconds showing, setting Salem up for Walter’s eventual game-winner with 1.4 seconds left.
“We were in a great position, up one with our best free-throw shooter on the line, it just didn’t go in and they (the Quakers) got the putback,” said Green.
¯Minerva rallied to win the junior varsity game, 46-42. Jaren Snyder and Kaleb Caldwell led the Quakers with 10 points each. Owen Swogger paced the Lions with 11 points.
¯Salem returns to action Tuesday night when the Quakers travel to Marlington for an Eastern Buckeye Conference game against the Dukes.
“They (the Dukes) are a very good team, they have some quality wins with good kids and we’re going to look to go over there and battle them and see what happens,” said Andres.
¯Minerva is back in action tonight when it treks to Cadiz to face the Harrison Central Huskies in an independent game.
SALEM SCORING: Hunter Griffith 1-0-2, Josh Young 6-2-18, Cade Campolito 0-0-0, Niko Walter 3-1-7, Luke Weingart 0-0-0, Turner Johnson 3-1-7, Josh Lehwald 2-0-4,. Trey Double 0-0-0, Luke Duncan 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 15 4-9-38.
MINERVA SCORING: Reese Catlett 0-0-0, Taylor Lowmiller 2-0-4 Brandon Baumgardner 1-0-3 Noah Sallade 1-0-2, Alex Kimble 0-0-0, Phillip Boord 1-0-2, Blake Kirsey 2-1-7, Brice Williams 7-3-19, Mitchell Greer 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 14-4-9 37.
Three-point goals: Minerva 5 (Brice Williams 2, Blake Kirsey 2, Brandon Baumgardner 1). Salem 4 (Josh Young 4).