Winning traits escape Rangers in late-game slip

Herald Sports Writer

FERDINAND — Forest Park boys basketball coach Jeff Litherland may have nightmares about this one.


For three quarters, the Rangers delivered perhaps one of their best basketball performances this season. For three quarters, they executed offensively, they played aggressive defense without fouling, they converted free throws, they grabbed rebounds and they avoided turnovers — all against a Perry Central team ranked 10th in Class 2A.

But a final stretch of turnovers and missed shots paired with a late run from the Commodores turned a double-digit Forest Park lead into a 56-53 loss for the Rangers on Saturday night at Buechler Arena. When reserve David Lusk’s final 3-point attempt as time expired  glanced off the back of the rim, it was as much a proclamation about the loss as it was the game’s final play.
So close, but just not enough.

“It’s tough,” Litherland said. “We led by double digits. Things we worked on all week we just didn’t execute the last six minutes of the game. And when you don’t execute, you lose. You don’t make layups, you don’t make free throws, you turn the ball over, you deserve to lose. We should have won the game, made a few plays, and we panicked and we didn’t.”

When Lusk connected on a 3-pointer from the left wing with 5:11 remaining, it gave Forest Park (4-5) a 10-point cushion and what appeared to be enough wiggle room to fend off the Commodores (8-1). But on the next possession, Perry Central guard Andrew Huber — who scored nine points the fourth quarter — dropped in a layup-plus-one that kicked off a 11-2 Perry Central run. When Huber scored on another three-point play with 1:37 remaining, Perry Central led 52-51 and had its first advantage since the opening quarter.

It was turnovers that burned the Rangers late. After committing just five in the first half, Forest Park gave away six in the final period — none more costly than the last with less than 10 seconds remaining. The first-appearance of a 1-2-1 trap defense from the Commodores seemed to disorient the Rangers, and Perry Central intercepted a pass to Cody Tempel near the free throw line. Perry Central’s Michael Schwartz then missed the front end of a bonus free throw try on the other end, but grabbed his own miss and went back to the line and sank both free throws after the Rangers fouled again.

Down by three with 3.3 seconds left, the Rangers executed a flawless inbounds play. Ben Wendholt fired a full-court pass to Ben Englert, who caught it at the top of the key. The junior then quickly flicked it right to Lusk, who got off a long 3 from the wing with a man in his face.  

“I thought it was going to be close,” Lusk said. “I didn’t know, but I was hoping it would go in.”

It was unfortunate because the loss overshadowed some stellar performances from the Rangers.

Englert scored a career-high 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting. He manufactured points by finishing at the basket. He took defenders one-on-one, he split double-teams, he finished an up-and-under while being fouled. When he dropped in a shot from the free throw line as time expired in the third quarter, it gave Forest Park a 42-32 lead heading into the final period.

And it was Englert who  gave the Rangers a second-chance late. After Perry Central stole a Forest
Park pass with the Rangers down one with less than a minute remaining, Englert promptly stole it back at halfcourt and finished for his final basket of the night.

“They had a real tough time guarding him,” Litherland said. “He’s one of the quickest guys in southern Indiana, by far.”

Forest Park’s other starting guard, Joel Weyer, finished with just five points, but dished out five assists. Three times while positioned outside the 3-point arc, he fired passes to Rangers positioned under the basket 20 feet away — the last time to Lusk, who had a solid game of his own. The sophomore finished with eight points, three steals and grabbed four rebounds.

“David is tough,” Litherland said. “He’s a sophomore and he doesn’t look like a basketball player; I call him Aaron Craft, (the Ohio State point guard). He’s tough and just gets stuff done. We really like Dave.”

“To me, it means a lot,” Lusk said about contributing off the bench. “I like to bring emotion to the players.”

But a 24-11 fourth quarter seemed to spoil all that. The Rangers had pulled ahead after a 14-all first quarter with stingy defense — Perry Central converted just three baskets in the second quarter — and 6-of-8 shooting from the foul line.

It’s the kind of performance that left Litherland perplexed. Twenty-four minutes of flawless basketball and then a final stretch where the wheels fell off. But the positive was enough to offer a glimmer of hope that the Rangers are ready for challenges to come, including a Friday trip to South Spencer (6-5) and a visit Saturday from North Posey (2-7).

“They were just tougher than us in the last couple of minutes,” Lusk said. “They got more rebounds, they pushed, they made us turn the ball over.

“We’re all pretty disappointed, but we’re all ready to come back and play a double weekend next weekend.”

Contact Joseph Fanelli

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