EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio – The East Liverpool Potters had scored a whopping 99 points in their last game. Pirates players and staff were there on the first night of the 23rd Annual Potter Holiday Classic to see it and scout it. East Liverpool scored 96 points in the game before that … and a 104 in the game before that … and a mere 88 in the game before that. A four-game points-per-game average of 96.8, a figure better suited to a human body temperature than a number of points humans can score in a 32-minute basketball game. And on Friday night in the title game of their own tournament, the Potters were held to 40 points by a band of battling buccaneers from the North Coast.
With a swarming defense, Rocky River found a way to stop the momentum of a 5-0 East Liverpool squad, and the Pirates defeated the Potters, 61-40, to win the championship game of the four-team, holiday-week tournament.
“We had our work cut out for after what we saw the night before,” said Head Coach Mike Murray, “but our defense was tremendous tonight. I’m really proud of our team and the way they played.”
The way his Pirates played included Murray’s Men in Maroon jumping out to a 20-9 start in the first quarter. Six different River players found the scoring column in that first frame, and a diverse source of points would benefit the Pirates (2-6) all night. After a mostly-even exchange of buckets in the second quarter, Rocky River went into its Potter Fieldhouse locker room with a 35-22 lead at halftime.
River ratcheted up the intensity in the third quarter, allowing just two field goals for the home side while extending its lead to 23 points (51-28). The fourth quarter was evenly played, and the final digits on the scoreboard read: Visitors 61, Potters 40.
Oliver Clingain and Luke Coyne were solid in providing enough offense in the second half to allow the Pirates to stave off any comeback attempts by East Liverpool (5-1). In fact, Clingain and Coyne were solid throughout the game and in all facets after a Thursday game (a 62-59 win over Akron Manchester) filled with much the same – both were named to the Potter Holiday Classic all-tournament team. Clingain had 15 points and six rebounds a night after going 27-and-14 against Manchester. Coyne had 14 points and nine boards in Friday’s tournament finale.
Both River veterans were also instrumental in leading the Pirates to defending their own basket to the tune of a 40-point yield, the team’s lowest of the season and lowest since Feb. 10 of last season. Clingain had four steals and three blocks in the contest; Coyne had three steals and two blocked shots.
Another key factor in the victory according to Murray were the handles the Pirates had on the basketball. Rocky River committed just nine turnovers in the contest. That coach’s-dream number of turnovers comes at the end of a month that has seen the Pirates commit 20-plus turnovers in multiple games.
Basketball protected. Rim protected. And an 0-6 team that took a bus ride east on Thursday made the return trip home Friday night with a two-game win streak – and a trophy – in tow.
CANNON FIRE …
BOX TOPS: Sophomore guard Cristain Dean was credited with seven assists on Friday’s stat sheet. Junior forward Grant Eversman added 13 points and five rebounds. Eversman and fellow junior John Ruma hit multiple 3-pointers in the game.
INTO THE SWINGIN’ 60s: A Rocky River team that averaged just 45.0points per game over its first three contests this season has now scored 60-plus in five straight games. A more consistent brand of offense produced double-digit point totals in 6-of-8 quarters played in East Liverpool.
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