Jan. 7—WHEELERSBURG — Valley's last offensive possession was emblematic of their overall game plan — playing fast.
Following a game-tying bucket by Wheelersburg senior Nolan Wright with 21.5 seconds left, Indians junior Jace Copley saw an opportunity.
Wasting no time, the six-foot-three guard attacked the Pirate defense off the dribble into an open lane, scoring a layup which put Valley ahead 61-59 with 8.5 seconds remaining.
'Burg would get one more shot on the final possession, but Connor Estep's potential game-winner was off the mark — securing the two-point Indian win.
"I put a lot of work in over the summer, I know what I can do. At that time I was calm, collected; wanted to take the ball to the rack and either get fouled or make the layup," Copley said. "Once I got the ball, had an open lane and just drove it."
"Jace puts so much work in and has such a high basketball IQ. He understands situations and time to score," Valley coach Craig Tackett said, after the game. "When he had the ball at the end of the game, it's why I didn't call timeout because I knew our best chance was not let them get setup and to let him take them off the dribble to the rim."
Friday's meeting in Pirate Country was the first of the 2022-23 season between their programs, both of which reached the regional semifinals last March.
Valley put three scorers in double-figures led by Copley's team-high 20 points. They took a 37-36 lead at halftime after an up-and-down first half that saw 11 combined made three pointers.
That fast-paced action was part of the Indians game plan, Tackett said afterwards.
A slower paced second half saw Valley take the final 16 minutes 24-23 with Copley's game-winner being the decider.
"Wheelersburg's a tough team year in and year out and it's a tough place to play. I'm going to give Coach Prater credit, he's done a really great job with his team. Our goal was to try and speed them up, make the game our pace," Tackett said. "Thought we did a good job of that. First half they were hitting a lot of big shots and we weren't getting great rotations on our press. Those were some things we talked about at halftime that if we get them sped up, hopefully they get worn down in the second half."
Wheelersburg senior Nolan Wright caught fire in the first half, scoring 24 of his game-high 35 points in the first 16 minutes to help keep the Pirates within a possession.
Valley senior Colt Buckle finished with 18 points on eight field goals and two-of-two foul shooting, while fellow senior George Arnett scored 12 of his 13 points in the first half.
"Those three guards sprint the floor so well and play hard,
Tackett said. "Any of the three feed off each other's energy — they've been playing together for years and know what the other's going to do."
Valley center Levi Stewart finished with eight points and a team-high seven rebounds. Stewart's biggest bucket came in the late stages when his offensive rebound put-back score gave the Indians a 59-57 lead.
The Indians led by as many as nine in the second half — a deficit the the Pirates cut down in the fourth, tying the game twice in the final minutes.
Valley got big minutes off the bench from senior Hunter Edwards, who was playing for senior Carter Nickel after Nickel fouled out with 4:56 left in the fourth.
"Levi's been huge underneath for us. When they were trying to get him away from the rim with ball screens, thought he overall did a good job of staying in front of guys and not getting beat off the dribble. Hunter (Edwards) brought us a lot of energy off the bench. When he's in we're a lot quicker at the five spot which helps us defensively."
Nickel fouled out in an unusual way, as well.
As he was set to check in at the scorer's table, a loose ball went in his direction near the out of bounds line. One of the officials gave Nickel a technical as he deemed the senior touched the ball as it was still in play before it crossed into out of bounds territory.
Those technical free throws cut the Indian lead to a one possession game at 55-52.
Tackett recalled the moment and action as, "totally unintentional".
"The ref told me he reached across the line when the ball was live and touched a live basketball. My thought was it touched the out of bounds line first and he was trying to tip it back to them," Tackett said. "He was trying to help, I don't think he was trying to kill the basketball or anything like that. Totally unintentional."
For the game, Valley shot 25-of-53 from the field (47.2-percent) and five-of-eight from the foul line.
Wheelersburg shot 24-of-63 from the field and seven-of-26 from beyond the arc while winning the battle on the glass 35-26.
Valley is back in action on Tuesday at Waverly and Friday at Northwest in SOC II play.
"Don't take anything for granted. Get back to work in the gym, take the rest of the regular season one game and practice at a time. We've got Waverly on Tuesday, another conference game. There's nobody in this conference you can take lightly."
Wheelersburg will host Waverly on Friday (Jan. 13) in SOC II play.
Valley 14 23 16 8 — 61
Wheelersburg 14 22 10 13 — 59
Valley (7-2, 4-2 SOC II): Geroge Arnett 5 1-4 13, Hunter Edwards 0 0-0 0, Colt Buckle 8 2-2 18, Parker Lute 0 0-0 0, Carter Nickel 1 0-0 2, Jace Copley 8 0-0 20, Levi Stewart 3 2-2 8; TOTALS: 25 5-8 61; Three-point field goals: 6 (Jace Copley 4, George Arnett 2)
Wheelersburg (6-3, 3-2 SOC II): Braylon Rucker 3 0-0 7, Connor Estep 1 0-0 2, Xander Mowery 0 0-0 0, Nolan Wright 14 2-5 35, Jackson Schwamburger 2 2-2 7, Caleb Arthur 1 0-0 2, Kaden Johnson 0 0-0 0, Zavier Stanley 3 0-0 6; TOTALS: 24 4-7 59; Three-point field goals: 7 (Nolan Wright 5, Braylon Rucker, Jackson Schwamburger 1 apiece)
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 370-0713 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved