By Mike Myers
Given his highly successful hall of fame coaching career, Gene Miiller hasn’t had to be encouraged after a loss very often.
But that’s where Miiller was following his team’s 39-34 loss to Big 8 Conference rival Jasper at the Hatchet House on Friday.
Despite the defeat, Washington (3-8, 0-2) improved in one huge area which has plagued the Hatchets for much of season, even in last week’s overtime victory versus Evansville Mater Dei. Turnovers - or actually the lack thereof - were a big area of improvement for the Hatchets against Jasper (4-6, 3-2). Whereas both Hatchet games last weekend saw WHS rack up double digit miscues, Washington committed just eight turnovers on Friday, which put the Hatchets in a position to win at the end of the game.
“I thought we played better. We only had ourselves for eight turnovers, we handled the basketball well. I thought we played better defensively,” said Miiller. “We let them get some offensive rebounds in the second half that hurt us.
“I feel much better after tonight’s ballgame than I did after either ballgame last week, even though we won one of those,” said Miiller. “We made some progress, we did some things we worked on in practice. Hopefully this will get us going in the right direction, we’ll get better from this and have a better second half.”
Washington held the Wildcats to 35 percent shooting overall but Jasper pulled down nine offensive rebounds, including several in the third period, and the Wildcats took advantage of those second chances to build a 29-25 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Hatchets kept up the pressure in the final eight minutes, twice cutting the Jasper lead to one point. Colton Garland and Andy Garland, who tied for team high honors with 10 points apiece, each netted a big 3-pointer in the fourth quarter for WHS. But the Wildcats, who didn’t have a single field goal in the fourth period, were 10-12 from the free throw line in the quarter to hold off the Hatchet rally.
The Hatchets shot the ball well from the behind the arc (7-12) but not so well from under the basket, where several close shots were off the mark as WHS shot just 12-35 (34 percent) overall from the field. Those close misses especially hurt the Hatchets in the second half.
“That was critical in that stretch, where we missed some easy shots around the basket,” said Miiller. “We should have made those and we didn’t make them, and that was really the difference in the ballgame.”
Miiller was especially pleased with Colton Garland, a freshman starting guard.
“I thought Colton Garland had a nice game tonight, not just scoring but handling the basketball, defensively he played well,” said Miiller. “I though he had a nice ballgame for us, he even showed some leadership for us while he was playing.”
Tyler Stoll, back from an ankle injury which sidelined him for last Saturday’s Heritage Hills game, scored three points, while Jarrod Purdue dialed long distance twice on the way to seven points. Cody Milligan added four rebounds and two points for WHS. Foul trouble limited center Cullen Arnold to just two points though Arnold didn’t foul out while battling the Jasper interior players all night long.
Nate Messier led Jasper with 11 points, followed by eight from Nick Gobert.
A low scoring first half ended with the teams tied at 18-18 after the Hatchets fronted 13-9 after one quarter of action. Colton Garland led WHS with seven at the break, including a bucket with just under 3:00 to play in the half which snapped a 5:53 WHS scoreless streak that began late in the first quarter.
Jasper moved ahead thanks to that scoring drought, but the Hatchets were tied heading into the locker room thanks to a buzzer beating 3-pointer from Tyler Stoll from right in front of the Wildcat bench at the end of the second stanza.
Jasper prevailed in the reserve game 44-24. Carson Smith led the Hatchets with nine points.
Washington travels to Gibson Southern tonight.