ASHLAND - At ease at last, the fourth-ranked Port Clinton boys basketball team comfortably settled in for an extended breather.
A calculated fourth-quarter sequence wasn't particularly exciting, but the result was in a 47-40 win over Mansfield Madison last night at Ashland University.
Deciding that their impressive turnaround from an ugly first quarter was nearly finished, the Redskins enacted an incredibly deliberate attack with about six minutes remaining, sharing the ball along the perimeter until they were able to draw a foul.
It was a plan of survival, and the conservatism aided Port Clinton (22-0) in advancing to the school's first district final in 27 years.
Madison (13-9) was sizzling to begin the game, and at the end the Redskins, ahead by a 38-30 margin, weren't willing to see if the Rams would finish with a flurry.
Once Port Clinton slowed down play, the Rams were unable to cut their deficit to fewer than seven points.
"They were sitting in the 2-3 [zone] and I was content to run off some clock," Port Clinton coach Troy Diels said. "I thought our kids handled it very well."
A win tomorrow over Bellevue will advance Port Clinton to the Division II regional semifinals at Bowling Green State University.
Josh Francis paced the Redskins with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Allen Tigner nearly recorded a double-double of his own, posting 14 points and nine boards.
Early on, it looked as though Port Clinton had run into a deadly scenario of playing poorly against an inferior opponent playing exceptionally well.
The Rams jumped out to a 13-4 advantage after the first quarter, using a 2-3 zone to force jump shots that was not able to convert.
By halftime though, the Redskins had solved what was ailing it and cut the lead to 20-17.
"We weren't nervous," Francis said. "We knew we were going to have our run."
With 17 points, Shaquille Brooks was Madison's lone double-digit scorer.
The Rams limited Port Clinton's Ryan Hicks - the northwest Ohio player of the year in D-II - to just six points and nine rebounds. Two of Hicks' points came on a 10-foot jumper with three seconds left in the first half to conclude a much needed 7-0 run.
"Credit the kids for battling," Diels said. "They never lose confidence, they never lose focus."
Port Clinton's momentum to close the second quarter carried over into the third as the Redskins outscored the Rams 17-7, providing a level of comfort unseen to that point. PC took its first lead - 23-22 - on a Hicks bucket inside. From there, Francis scored a two-pointer and Cory Brown knocked down a 3-pointer.
By the end of the third, Port Clinton led 34-27.
Port Clinton's defense also was more inspired in the second half as it used its length advantage to both deny passing lanes and to outrebound the Rams by 11.
It was a contrast to the first two quarters when the Redskins narrowly won the rebound advantage 20-16.
"We came out more ready to play in the second half," Francis said. "Coach was preaching that we had to box out or it was going to be our last game."
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