So the veteran New London boys basketball coach can openly admit two things following Friday’s Firelands Conference game vs. St. Paul.
Howell is not quite sure how his team is 3-1 in the FC, or how his team won Friday’s game, 55-53, after trailing 53-47 with two minutes remaining.
The Wildcats had a rough preseason, and began the season at 0-3 with a pair of blowout losses. But after Friday’s rally, New London is 3-3 (3-1).
“I’d be lying if I thought we’d be here right now,” Howell said. “But after going through the preseason and our first couple games, I just didn’t know.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but these guys are working and buying into some things,” he added. “We’re starting to play some pretty decent basketball.”
A pair of free throws by Paul Pearce put St. Paul (2-3, 2-1) ahead 53-47 with 2:29 left in the game. The Flyers did not score again.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats got a short jumper from Justin Marshall with 1:55 left, and following a St. Paul turnover, a layup from Weston Eibel with 1:43 left.
Suddenly it was just a 53-51 deficit. After a St. Paul missed shot, Dane Matthews then made a 3-pointer with 1:11 remaining to give New London a 54-53 lead.
It was one of just four shot attempts by Matthews.
Still, the Flyers had a chance after Karson Howell split a pair of free throws with 9.2 seconds left. Freshman Nick Winslow drove to the lane and drew some contact, but the shot was off the mark and no whistle was made as time expired.
“We started picking up the pressure a little bit those last two minutes,” Tom Howell said. “Sometimes it’s scary with a team like that, because with their size, if they do break it, they are probably going to get a layup.
“I thought Collin Cole did a heck of a job of getting into their point guard and causing some stuff,” he added. “Things fell the way we needed them to fall to get back into the game. We made some baskets there finally toward the end.”
It was a very streaky game overall for both teams.
New London led throughout the first quarter, and were up a couple baskets more than a minute into the second quarter — thanks to 3-pointers. The Wildcats scored 18 of their first 20 points on triples, and did not have a two-point shot made until the 4:32 mark of the second.
Meanwhile, St. Paul closed the first half on an 8-2 scoring run to open up a 34-26 halftime lead.
To begin the third quarter, a Nick Lukasko basket at the 7:12 mark gave the Flyers a 37-26 lead. But the Flyers didn’t score for the next 3:38 — the third straight game where a lengthy scoring drought in the third quarter has hurt them.
In that span, the Cats drew within 37-33, and eventually took a 42-41 lead with 55.8 seconds left in the third on a basket from Eibel.
New London opened the lead up to 47-42 with 6:23 left, when the Flyers made one last big run to take control.
Chris Ruffing scored inside, and Nick Winslow converted a three-point play with 5:07 left to tie the game. Lukasko then made a pair of free throws and Ruffing scored again to put the Flyers up 51-47 — and two minutes later, Pearce made his free throws for the ill-fated 53-47 advantage.
“Obviously down the stretch we didn’t handle it when we had the lead,” St. Paul coach Mike Smith said. “I thought we did a tremendous job on Karson Howell, but Matthews hit a big 3 there and the (Ben) Crawshaw kid hit a couple big ones.
“The difference in the game is they had 10 threes and we turned the ball over and didn’t finish well in certain situations,” he added. “To be a good team, you have to be able to do that.”
Eibel had 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting and Ashton Carruthers finished with 12 points and six rebounds for New London.
“Weston was huge tonight at both ends, but especially on defense,” Howell said. “Just huge.”
For St. Paul, 10 different players scored, with none in double-figures. Pearce scored nine, while Ruffing and Lukasko both scored eight points each.
After a 2-0 start, the Flyers have lost three straight games.
“I thought we were in pretty good shape there up 11 to start the second half, but credit New London,” Smith said. “It wasn’t because they were trapping all over, they just sped us up and we didn’t take care of the ball. We have to get better handling situations, it’s that simple.
“Clock management and getting into sets — and they did a good job taking away our inside a little bit,” he added. “We had some good looks. That was a great take at the end, Nick (Winslow) went to the rim like he should have and we didn’t get the call.”
New London will entertain Lucas tonight, while St. Paul is off until next Friday in a key FC game vs. Western Reserve.
In the junior varsity game, St. Paul claimed a 48-31 win. Alex Kashian scored 15 and Justin Hammersmith added 11. For New London, Jacob Allen had nine and Clayton Landis scored eight.