HOLT – Josh Denning knew he had to stay ready.
The missed shots, the fouls, it all began to pile up for the Holt senior, who started Friday night’s must-win game against Okemos but was benched to start the second half.
Frustration set in early for Denning, but he was able to overcome it and help propel his team in the midst of the ball game’s most intense moment.
The senior hit a go-ahead 3 in overtime to help the Rams top the Chiefs, 94-86, and remain a game behind East Lansing in the CAAC Blue standings. Holt will face the Class A No. 3-ranked Trojans next Friday.
FRIDAY NIGHT HOOPS COVERAGE
“Our coach is always preaching to stay ready,” said Denning, who scored six of his seven points in OT. “It was a pretty tough night. I felt like the fouls weren’t going my way.
“But you always got to stay ready.”
The Rams (11-3, 9-1), who grabbed their sixth straight victory, went into the locker room at halftime trailing, 39-38, due to the hot hand of Okemos junior Jordan Henry, who scored 19 of his game-high 31 points in the game’s first 16 minutes. But Holt senior and Columbia University signee Jaron Faulds provided some juice for the Rams by scoring eight of his 17 points in the third quarter.
The two teams went into the fourth tied at 58.
“We were talking at halftime, and the coaches came over and talked to me and said we need some energy, some points, we need to get stops on defense,” said Faulds, who hauled in seven rebounds and three crucial blocks in the second half. “We huddled up, talked as a team, and really stressed playing that defense and ball movement.
“They were getting me the ball. That was big for me to get those buckets in the third quarter, because they had to start crashing on me, and I hit the guys for open shots.”
The Chiefs (10-4, 6-3) opened the final quarter of regulation with an 11-6 run. A bucket from the Rams’ Deandre Whetstone, who scored 14 points, ignited a quick spurt to give his team a one-point lead. Okemos’ Vail Hartman followed that with five of his 14 points to put his team up by four.
With his team trailing, 80-79, with just a few ticks remaining, Hartman knocked down two free throws to give his ball club a one-point lead. Holt’s Caleb Cooper had a chance to win the game at the free-throw line on the next possession, but the junior point guard, who scored 18 points and dished out eight assists, went 1-for-2 from the charity stripe.
The Rams outscored the Chiefs, 8-3, in overtime after Denning’s 3-ball.
“We were getting beat on back cuts, drives to the baskets,” Henry said of overtime after such a back-and-forth contest. “We had to play better defense and box out more.”
Holt junior Troy Jordan scored 18 points, which included five straight late in the fourth quarter after Hartman went on a solo 5-0 run.
Okemos’ Luke Stagg also pitched in with 18 points.
Contact James L. Edwards III at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.