By TED RADICK
VANLUE — It was the little victories that added up to one big win Friday for the McComb boys basketball team.
Little victories like taking care of the ball, applying pressure on defense and keeping Vanlue center Zach Garber from dominating close to the basket.
All those things played a role as the Panthers rallied from behind for a 44-38 win in a Blanchard Valley Conference game.
“I was really happy with the way we played,” McComb coach Aaron Roth said. “I told the kids, hang in there until the end and you never know what can happen. We made plays in the last couple minutes to get us the win.”
McComb, with the exception of one brief lead early in the third quarter, trailed throughout most of the game. The key was, the Panthers (4-5, 2-1 BVC) never let the Wildcats (7-1, 2-1) get out of reach.
“We wanted to stay with them the whole game and at the end take it over, and that’s exactly what we did,” McComb’s Dalton Buck said.
McComb forced five Vanlue turnovers in the fourth quarter, and ate away at a Vanlue lead that was 36-31 after a conventional three-point play by Linden Smith early in the period.
Clay Grubb hit a layup and a free throw to start the rally, and a 16-footer to tie the game 38-38 with 1:47 remaining. Grubb, McComb’s 6-foot-4 sophomore center, finished with a game-high 18 points.
Garber and Smith led Vanlue with 11 points apiece. Grubb, helped much of the game by a McComb player fronting Garber, held Vanlue’s 6-10 post scoreless in the fourth quarter.
“Clay is a very good player, and he’s just starting to realize it,” Roth said. “We’ve been telling him that for two years now. He had a rough time over Christmas where he didn’t play very well, and the coaches got after him a little. He’s really stepped up the past three games.
“He was competitive tonight, which I like to see. He got a couple of steals and rebounds. Hopefully he continues that, because he can be a very good player.”
Grubb, despite giving up six inches in the paint, knew his role — stop Garber, the BVC’s leading scorer at 21.6 points per game.
“He’s really good in the post,” Grubb said. “We wanted to keep him off the free-throw line and not let him drive on us.”
Garber scored only four points after the first quarter and did not shoot a free throw.
“I didn’t notice that,” Grubb said. “He was getting his points early and I knew we had to stop him.”
McComb closed the game out with its defense.
Buck stole a ball, was fouled and hit two free throws to give McComb a 40-38 lead with 1:25 left. Three times down the floor after that, the Wildcats turned the ball over and the Panthers iced the victory with free throws.
“The defensive pressure got to us. We weren’t strong enough with the ball, and it cost us,” Vanlue coach Dean Birchmeier said.
Save for a last-second 3-pointer when the game was already out of reach, the Wildcats never got a shot off in the final two minutes.
“We weren’t able to execute to get the ball where it needed to be,” Birchmeier said.
McComb, which started in a 2-3 zone and switched to man in the second half, forced 13 turnovers including five in the fourth quarter.
“We went to a zone early in the game and it worked really well, and halftime comes and they hit two straight 3-pointers,” Roth said. “I said, ‘We’ve got to get out of this.’
“We’re normally a man team, but we were so worried about Zach. We did a good job of fronting and playing behind him, and we were daring other guys to shoot. We weren’t going to let Zach score all night from two feet.
“They hit some shots early on, but we decided that’s the way we were going to play it. As the game went on and it got tighter, those shots didn’t fall for them. It worked out well for us in the end.”
Maybe so, but early on it was Vanlue’s offense that was working well.
Josh Clymer opened with a 3-pointer and the Wildcats jumped to leads of 5-0 and 10-3 before taking a 13-7 advantage after one quarter.
McComb finished the first half on a 6-2 run to cut Vanlue’s lead to 18-17 at halftime. Smith, with two 3-pointers, and Lee Summers, with another, shot the Panthers out of that zone for a 29-22 Vanlue lead midway through the third quarter.
Again, McComb rallied. Grubb took a perfect pass from Jerry Brown and converted it into a conventional three-point play in the final seconds of the third quarter and McComb trailed just 33-31.
McComb outscored Vanlue 13-5 in the fourth quarter.
“A lot of people think because our record is so bad, that we were kind of down,” Buck said. “But those first few games, we played some good competition. Our record doesn’t show the type of team we have. We can put up a pretty good fight.”
McComb (4-5, 2-1 BVC)
Reardon 1-1—4, Dysert 0-2—2, Buck 1-5—7, Wilson 2-0—4, Brown 4-1—9, Grubb 7-4—18. TOTALS: 15-35 13-19—44.
Vanlue (7-1, 2-1 BVC)
A. Smith 0-0—0, Clymer 3-0—7, Hagerty 1-0—3, L. Smith 4-1—11, Summers 2-0—5, Garber 5-0—11, Watson 0-1—1. TOTALS: 15-41 2-3—38.
McComb 7 10 14 13 — 44
Vanlue 13 5 15 5 — 38
3-Point GOALS: McComb 1-10 (Reardon); Vanlue 6-19 (L. Smith 2, Clymer, Hagerty, Summers, Garber).
rebounds: McComb 21 (Brown 8); Vanlue 27 (Garber 9).
turnovers: McComb 7, Vanlue 13.
junior varsity: McComb, 40-28.