They scraped and clawed and fought like crazy, which is why the Wood River High School boys’ varsity basketball team beat the Gooding Senators 35-30 on Tuesday in Hailey.
And coach Andy Miles’ Wolverines (2-1) celebrated like crazy after team-high scorer Connor Hayes (8 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals) made two free throws with nine seconds remaining to seal the home win.
Disciplined basketball and desire accounted for only the second home win for Wood River boys’ basketball in 31 home games over three-plus seasons dating back to 2009.
“So proud of them—the kids never gave up and never stopped fighting,” said Miles, whose very young squad trailed 12-4 in the first quarter.
Junior 6-7 center Max Mauldin scored six points with three rebounds in the fourth quarter and Wood River’s intense man-to-man defense kept the Senators in check for most of the closely played second half. Neither team led by more than three points in the second half until the Hayes’ charities.
In fact, Wood River never led until sophomore Jonathon Scott (5 points, 4 rebounds, 3-for-4 free throws) dished off to Mauldin, who canned a lovely turnaround with 4:12 remaining for a 29-28 Wood River lead.
Mauldin then yanked down a rebound of a Gooding missed shot and Wood River immediately went into a slowdown game, despite having only a one-point lead with nearly four minutes left in the contest.
“I think they (Gooding) were shocked when we started holding the ball right after getting the lead,” said Miles. “But the kids are very well disciplined. We held the ball for three minutes against Kimberly (a 35-24 Wolverine victory Nov. 28).
“What it did was create some open looks for us on offense. We held the ball and made them go into man-to-man defense, then we drew some fouls and were able to convert from the free throw line (6-for-9 in the fourth). The kids have bought into it, and it’s a beautiful thing when it works.”
Miles played basketball at Skyline High School in Idaho Falls, where he said coaches like Casey Jones and former Blaine County School District superintendent Jim Lewis used the slowdown game effectively to squeeze out victories against more talented hoops’ squads.
“It’s a different style of basketball. I guess you could call it ‘Stall Ball,’” said Miles. “They used to use it very effectively in college. That’s why they finally put in a rule against using it in college—because it works”
Besides its late-game offensive strategy, the other coaching move that worked for Wood River Tuesday was switching to a man-to-man defense in the second half.
Miles said, “We needed to create some turnovers, and we did a better job of boxing out for rebounds. We had to get on the same page in the second half. The man-to-man defense helped us do better with that.”
Wood River didn’t shoot well in the first half and trailed 17-12 midway through the second quarter—Gooding doing a better job on offensive boards and generating steals on defense.
Newly inserted into the game, senior Jose Hernandez drilled the first Wolverine 3-pointer of the season on a pass from Nickolaus Brunker (2 points, 2 boards). Hernandez made two more hustle plays to spark an 8-2 Hailey run cutting Gooding’s lead at half to 17-16.
The Senator lead could have been greater, but Miles successfully argued that a buzzer-beating Gooding baseline basket actually hit the top of the backboard and was out-of-bounds. The officials disallowed the basket and the score stayed 17-16, instead of possibly becoming 20-16 at halftime.
“That was a big moment,” said Miles. “Our goal before the game was to keep Gooding under 20 points at halftime.”
Freshman point guard Alec Nordsieck (4 points, 3 steals, 3 assists) made two big steals in the fourth quarter. The first resulted in a Scott transition basket and the second preserved the 33-30 Wood River lead after a nice banked field goal by junior Eron Bates (6 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists).
At the end, sophomore Cody Carter (3 rebounds) came in to spell hard-working forward Mauldin and came up with a key defensive rebound and a game-ending blocked shot.
“We matured quite a bit through the course of the game,” said Miles, whose team committed only 14 turnovers, none in the fourth quarter, and handled the Senator press.
Seniors Kevin Arkoosh (8 points, 3 rebounds, 4 steals) and Carter Flora (8 points, 8 rebounds) led Gooding (0-3).
Wood River visited Buhl (1-2) Thursday and hosts the Community School of Sun Valley Wednesday, Dec. 12 in Hailey. Buhl dropped its first two games 57-39 to Jerome and 61-52 at Minico before winning in overtime over Wendell.