NEWARK — Grant Somers does a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that has helped propel Newark in an impressive winning streak.
The lanky 6-foot-1 senior scraps for loose balls, deflects passes, keeps rebounds alive and finds open teammates.
On Friday night against rival Lancaster, he finally got rewarded on the offensive end. Somers scored all 14 of his points during a 33-14 second-half blitz that powered the Wildcats to a 51-29 Ohio Capital Conference-Buckeye Division win in Jimmy Allen Gymnasium.
"He always plays hard, gets everyone on the same page and is great to have on the court," said classmate Ethan Schell, who led Newark (12-2, 4-1) with 15 points and a trio of 3-pointers, also blocking a pair of shots as the Wildcats won their ninth consecutive game.
"Grant is having a great year, and you might not know that by looking at the stats," coach Jeff Quackenbush said. "But he's a great leader for our young group, he plays so hard, is really unselfish and hasn't taken a lot of shots."
Newark led the pesky Golden Gales just 18-15 after a cold-shooting first half, but opened the third quarter with a 13-0 run, forcing 11 second-half turnovers and limiting Lancaster (5-8, 1-4) to only five second-half field goals. Schell canned a pair of 3s in the surge and Grant Burkholder added another, while Steele Meister scored on a rebound and also in transition as the Wildcats suddenly led 31-15.
"They do a good job defensively of pressuring you and making you uncomfortable with what you're trying to do," said Lancaster coach Kent Riggs. "We knew Schell could shoot, and he was able to get his feet set. In the second half, we had decent looks, but we turned it over more."
"At halftime, we had a little meeting, and coach told us to pick it up and get after it, and we did in the second half," Schell said. "He coached us up, like he usually does," said Somers, who also had three assists and did a good job defensively on Lancaster guard Dylan West. "I didn't think we were ready to play, although it was our first time against a zone and sometimes you can struggle with that."
Sam Finck assisted Kolson Pugh on a layup and Dominick Bornino hit a 3-pointer as the Gales sliced their deficit to 33-24 late in the third. But Somers was just getting started, scoring off the press, drilling a 3-pointer and adding another transition basket to keep Newark up 38-24 going to the fourth. Down the stretch, Somers had another basket off the press on a Drew Oberholtzer assist, and made another 3-pointer.
"I try to feel out the game and see how it's going, and tonight, our shooters were off against the zone," Somers said. "I felt if I could give us something on offense, and still keep everyone in check on defense, we would be alright, and they did a good job of finding me in transition."
The Wildcats shot just 38 percent from the field in the first half, including 2-of-10 on 3s against Lancaster's 2-3 zone, and the Gales stayed within three on late baskets by Pugh and Tre Williams.
"We kind of knew it (the zone) was coming," Schell said. "The whole week, we prepped for it and came in prepared, but we were a little shaky at the beginning. When we can drive the ball, they can see me wide open, and once we see shots going in, we start taking off."
"Last year, it was similar in both games against them, like one or two points at halftime," Quackenbush said. "It was our first time playing against a zone, and it was a good zone. We started making some jumpers, got some deflections and steals, and got some easy layups in transition."
Newark won big despite hitting just 44 percent from the field (22-of-49), including 7-of-21 on 3s, and missed its only foul shot. But Meister scrapped for 14 rebounds, helping the Wildcats to a 27-22 advantage on the boards, and they had only eight turnovers. Burkholder chipped in with 10 points and Meister had eight, while Ethan Stare led the defense with five steals and also had three assists.
Pugh, with 12 points and seven rebounds, was the only Gale close to double figures as they finished just 12-of-35 from the floor for 34 percent and had 18 turnovers. Finck had five rebounds and four assists.
"If you hold a team to 51 points in a varsity game, you should probably win the game," Riggs said. "We have to make more shots and find a way to score. We've had a tough stretch, with Pickerington Central, New Albany and now here. Hopefully, it doesn't take all of our confidence away. We still have the second half of the season to go."
"This time of year, you'll have nights where the ball doesn't go in," Quackenbush said. "The kids might not like it, but that's why we work so much on defense in practice. It pays off, when you're not making shots."
This article originally appeared on Newark Advocate: Somers, defense ignite surging Newark in 2nd half against Lancaster