JACKSON CENTER — With Jackson Center only on its third game of the season, coach Scott Elchert said he knows asking the team to play a perfect 32 minutes is a stretch.
And while the Tigers showed they still have areas to fix, they displayed a deadly scoring and defensive ability in the fourth quarter on Friday that made up for any mistakes.
After Houston pulled within four points in the third quarter, the Tigers ran away to a 54-36 win in a Shelby County Athletic League game on their home court.
After the Wildcats cut the lead to 33-29 in the third quarter, Jackson Center finished with a 21-7 scoring advantage to put the game away.
The Tigers (2-1, 2-0 SCAL) were most dominant in the fourth quarter, when they outscored Houston 13-3. After John Leist scored with 6:43 left in the fourth, the Wildcats didn’t score again until a free throw with one second left.
“I think we had some breakdowns defensively in the paint, which is going to happen over the course of a 32-minute game,” Elchert said. “We just allowed them to bury us, and they were catching the ball point-blank for a three-footer.
“I think the key thing is how we finished in the fourth quarter, holding them to one field goal and free throw. When your ‘D’ can ramp it up even when you might be a little fatigued, that’s great.”
Jackson Center led by 10 points at halftime, but Houston started the third quarter with a big run.
Brennan Arnold made a basket with 5:47 left to cut Houston’s deficit 33-25, then neither team made a field goal for two minutes. Jairon Douglas made a basket with 3:13 left, then Leist scored shortly after to bring the Wildcats within 33-29.
Jackson Center quickly put the game away. Trent Platfoot made a basket in the paint and followed with a free throw after a foul to increase the lead to 36-29. After a basket by Arnold, Christopher Elchert hit a 3-pointer with 1:01 left to increase the lead to 41-31.
Elchert opened the fourth with a 3 to push Jackson Center’s lead to 44-33, then Reichert scored eight points late in the quarter to help the Tigers run away.
Though the Wildcats (0-2, 0-1) lost by 18 points, coach Mark Platfoot was happy with the team’s effort. The Tigers had a 15-point lead early in the second quarter before Houston came back to cut it to four.
“I thought we competed,” Platfoot said. “I told the guys it’s about the small things now. We’ve got to find ways not to have mental lapses and give up easy baskets like we did there at times. Our fight is there and is a lot better than it has been in the past, but we’ve just got to find ways to grind out wins. (Jackson Center) is a very solid basketball team with the way they defend, so give them all the credit.”
Reichert led Jackson Center with 21 points while Christopher Elchert finished with 14. The Tigers had seven 3s in the game, with four coming from Christopher Elchert, who is Scott’s son.
“If you think about all those 3s we had, it was from making that next pass,” Scott Elchert said. “A guy might be open, but he was able to get it to a guy that was more open than him. When you can have that combination going, it opens up things on the inside and outside.”
Tristin Freistuhler and Leist each led the Wildcats with eight points. Peyton Arnold finished with seven, while Brennan Arnold finished with six, all of which were in the third quarter.
“(Jackson Center) just plays such great defense, and they make it hard to get into a set offensively,” Platfoot said. “I thought our effort was there, we just have to find a way to do some small things.
“We’re still growing and trying to find our roles. Learning to win games is what we’re trying to do right now. That’s a process.”
After the teams traded baskets early, Jackson Center went on a big run to take a 15-point lead early in the second quarter.
Elchert and TJ Esser made baskets to put the Tigers up 9-4 with 3:37 left in the first quarter, but a 3-pointer from Freistuhler cut the lead to two points. A 3 by Peyton Arnold later cut Jackson Center’s lead to 12-10, but the Tigers scored the next 13 points.
Reichert made a 3 with 2:04 left, then Garret Prenger made a basket in the paint 20 seconds later. Reichert added a basket off the glass before the end of the quarter to boost the lead to 19-10.
Esser and Elchert opened the second with consecutive 3s to push the Tigers’ lead to 25-10, and Houston called a timeout.
The Wildcats responded with a 7-0 run and later pulled closer. Consecutive baskets by Leist and Peyton Arnold pulled the Wildcats within 27-21 with 2:29 left in the second, though Elchert hit a 3 and Platfoot made a free throw before the end of the quarter to extend the Tigers’ lead to 31-21 at halftime.
“We knew Houston, with the energy they play with, wasn’t going away,” Elchert said. “They came right out after that timeout and got one of their shooters a wide-open 3, and then I feel like went through a three-minute stretch where we made bad decisions with the basketball at the offensive end.
“That led to some easier buckets for them, and next thing you know, it was down closer. …But we executed well offensively late to get some shots.”
Jackson Center will play at home again on Saturday against Coldwater. Houston will travel to Franklin-Monroe on Saturday.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.