Westland controls the pace in huge win at Upper Arlington
As Westland (6-2) traveled north to Upper Arlington (6-4) for their fourth league game on the road, the Cougars knew they needed to improve on their perimeter defense. After being scorched from three in a 70-64 loss at Dublin Coffman on Friday, Coach Todd Parker’s team picked up the pace tonight in a 72-60 win over the Golden Bears. Led by JJ Smith (21 points) and Kersey Long (22 points) on the offensive end, it was Smith and Devan Williamson‘s rebounding and defense that really made the difference in tonight’s win for the Cougars.
From the jump, Westland turned up the pressure and really set the tone for tonight’s victory. Kersey Long got it going early on, with five quick points in the first quarter, as Westland jumped out to an 11-4 lead with three minutes remaining in the first quarter. Upper Arlington would respond with a run of their own, led primarily by Kevin Vannatta, who scored 25 points on the night, and Danny Hummer, who also contributed with 17 points, to bring the deficit down to three at the end of one.
Smith and Williamson were crucial on the defensive end for Westland, both contributing huge blocked shots in the first half. Guards Kersey Long, KyJuan Grace, and Cory Beesler were also very solid on the perimeter defensively, causing Arlington to shoot from the outside, as Westland eliminated passes into the paint for the majority of the game. It was Smith’s offensive work on the glass that paid huge dividends for the Cougars tonight, especially in the first half. With Westland’s lead back down to three, at 16-13, reserve Myles Fowler had a crucial three point play to stretch the lead back to six. As time winded down in the half, Westland’s fast break tempo once again made a huge difference, as Kersey Long connected with KyJuan Grace off of a steal to give Westland a 29-21 lead going into halftime.
Westland wouldn’t trail again. Early on in the third quarter, the Cougars would stretch their lead to 12, up 33-21 with 5:27 to go. Vannetta and Hummer orchestrated a 10-3 run for Arlington, bringing the deficit back to five with 4:13 remaining. Westland would again fight back, as a huge Williamson dunk put Westland up 41-33 with a little over a minute left in the period. The Cougars would again get a crucial score as time expired, this time with JJ Smith putting back his own miss, to give Westland a 43-37 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Cougars’ scoring in the fourth quarter was mightily impressive, with Kersey Long leading the charge late in the game. Upper Arlington had great difficulty containing Long all night long, but most importantly in the fourth quarter. When asked about what the keys were in tonight’s victory, Senior guard Cory Beesler highlighted the Cougars intensity and will to win, “Intensity and defense for sure, we came out ready to play and put the pressure on quick. We played like we wanted to win.” Beesler also noted how efficiently Westland was in the last period of play. “We shot 100% from the field in the fourth quarter, that’s hard to beat.” The Cougars would outscore Upper Arlington 29-23 in the last quarter of play to wrap up a 72-60 victory.
For Westland, this victory is a huge win for an already impressive season. Coming into tonight’s game, the Cougars had struggled on the road, mainly in losses at Thomas Worthington and Dublin Coffman. From the tip, the Cougars controlled the pace and forced Upper Arlington to play at a pace that they just couldn’t keep up with. Cory Beesler really contributed with some clutch threes to give the Cougars the momentum that they needed throughout the game. KyJuan Grace had a wonderful night on the defensive end, keeping Vannetta out of the lane for the majority of the night, along with scoring seven points of his own. Williamson scored eight on the night, but none bigger than his aforementioned dunk in the third quarter. He later said “I was impressed with how we bounced back from the loss last week and played as a team and got the win tonight.” Westland improves to 7-2 on the season, and heads into a home matchup Friday against rival Central Crossing, who comes into their next game at 2-8.