By MICHAEL BURWELL
VAN BUREN — Pandora-Gilboa was hanging on by a thread in more ways than one against Van Buren on Friday.
Nevertheless, that thread never broke.
P-G saw its 19-point lead midway through the third quarter shrink to four on two occasions in the fourth quarter, but the Rockets went on a 13-6 run over the final three minutes to knock off the Black Knights 59-48 and remain unbeaten in the Blanchard Valley Conference.
“We told the kids that (Van Buren’s) a good team and they’re going to come back. It’s just a matter of when,” P-G coach Joe Braidic said. “So weather the storm, keep your composure, put the pedal to the metal again and go back at them. They’re going to come at you, so just expect it.
“I think the kids had a lot of composure.”
P-G (14-1, 8-0 BVC) moved one step closer to winning its first BVC title in 16 years. The Rockets still have to face Vanlue, Liberty-Benton and Cory-Rawson in the BVC.
North Baltimore (6-1 BVC), which beat Cory-Rawson 50-44 on Friday, is the only team with one BVC loss. Arlington beat Hopewell-Loudon 53-37 to hand the Chieftains their second league loss.
P-G’s defensive pressure helped the Rockets take an 11-4 lead after the first quarter, a 24-9 halftime lead and a 31-12 lead with 4:41 left in the third quarter.
That’s when Matthew Ayers took over for Van Buren (9-7, 5-2).
The 6-foot-1 senior scored his first points of the game on a drive and left-handed finish with 4:26 left in the third period.
Ayers ended up with a game-high 23 points. He scored 15 of the Black Knights’ final 19 points in the third quarter in helping Van Buren pull to within 40-31. He scored six points in the paint and drained a pair of 3-pointers.
“All of us, and him especially, started attacking the basket, and when you do that, you get a lot of different things that are good,” Van Buren coach Tyler Niekamp said. “You start loosening up the defense, you get offensive rebounds, and then we started getting some open looks from the outside and we knocked a couple of those down.”
Ayers’ bucket off a P-G turnover and Connor Ohlrich’s corner 3-pointer after grabbing an offensive rebound pulled Van Buren to within 42-38 with 4:57 left. After four quick P-G points, Kade Steveson had a putback and Carson Goble had a steal and a layup to cut the deficit back to four with 3:11 left.
That was as close as the Black Knights would get.
P-G forced several turnovers over the final few minutes and used a patient offense and solid ball movement to seal the win. Junior forward Riley Larcom found a wide-open Jared Breece for two in the paint to extend P-G’s lead to 50-42, and on the Rockets’ next possession, Larcom fired a bounce pass to Eli Phillips for a bucket in the paint. Phillips was fouled and completed the three-point play to extend the lead back to double digits.
“Everyone on our team added something. We played 10 guys tonight and everybody put something on the floor,” Braidic said.
“We did a great job of battling back,” Niekamp said. “When you do that, you spend so much effort on that and they’re too good of a team. I think we were down four with about three minutes to go with the ball and we just couldn’t get anything done.”
P-G senior Drew Johnson scored 13 of his team-high 17 points in the first half. The 6-6 forward had a pair of buckets in the post and P-G’s lead went from 15-9 to 24-9 after Steveson went to the bench with foul trouble late in the second quarter.
“We played very well on defense and we kept telling the guys in the huddle when they called timeout we got to keep taking it to them because they’re going to make a run,” Johnson said. “Coach told us they’re going to make a run and we don’t know when it’s going to be, so we got to keep taking it to them and that’s what we did going into halftime.”
P-G, despite committing 12 turnovers in the first half and 23 overall, held Van Buren to just 18 percent shooting (4 of 22) in the first half.
“They matched up really well with us size-wise, and they’re strong, so we had a little bit of trouble with that,” Niekamp said. “We just couldn’t seem to get anything to fall. I feel like we had, even some open layups that we just for some reason missed. We missed some free throws, we just couldn’t get anything going for ourselves in that first half and that kind of compounded and built up.”
Van Buren shot 41 percent (20 of 49) from the floor overall, but made just 4 of 12 free throws. P-G was 56 percent (18 of 32) from the floor and 77 percent (20 of 26) from the free-throw line.
Larcom added 12 points and five rebounds for P-G, while Phillips had nine points and a game-high nine rebounds as the Rockets had a 33-19 advantage on the glass. Breece added eight points.
Nic Beitzel and Goble both added six points for Van Buren.
PANDORA-GILBOA (14-1, 8-0 BVC)
Johnson 5-7–17, Larcom 3-5–12, Phillips 3-3–9, Breece 3-2–8, Murphy 2-0–6, McCullough 1-3–5, Wauters 1-0–2, Lee 0-0–0, C. Schwab 0-0–0, Huffman 0-0–0. TOTALS: 18-32 20-26 — 59.
VAN BUREN (9-7, 5-2 BVC)
Ayers 9-3–23, Beitzel 3-0–6, Goble 3-0–6, Iliff 2-1–5, Kramer 1-0–3, Ohlrich 1-0–3, Steveson 1-0–2, Warren 0-0–0. TOTALS: 20-49 4-12 — 48.
Pandora-Gilboa 11 13 16 19 — 59
Van Buren 4 5 22 17 — 48
3-Point GOALS: Pandora-Gilboa 3-6 (Murphy 2, Larcom 1); Van Buren 4-15 (Ayers 2, Kramer & Ohlrich 1).
rebounds: Pandora-Gilboa 33 (Phillips 9); Van Buren 19 (Steveson & Goble 4).
turnovers: Pandora-Gilboa 23, Van Buren 16.
junior varsity: Pandora-Gilboa, 45-29.
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