NEWARK – Evan Thomas has always provided a spark off the bench for Newark, but in his senior season, he’s lighting a fire.
The Wildcats’ sixth man ignited an 11-0 first-quarter run Tuesday, and Newark kept the pedal on the gas throughout a 74-41 Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division breakthrough win against visiting Grove City at Jimmy Allen Gymnasium.
Newark (1-2, 1-1) hit a sizzling 10-of-16 3-pointers for 62 percent while limiting the Greyhounds (2-2, 0-2) to 28 percent floor shooting. Coach Jeff Quackenbush said it was because the Wildcats did the little things they hadn’t been doing in their two losses.
“Rebounding, transition defense, playing better zone defense, filling the lanes in transition offense,” he said. “Things you normally don’t notice, but things that add up. We ran our sets and got into the right spots. Better offense leads to better spacing and open shots.”
Newark’s two inside starters, B.J. Duling and Justin Carter, both picked up two quick fouls and sat for much of the first half. But thanks to the Wildcats’ role players and bench, the team didn’t miss a beat.
Thomas entered in a 9-8 game and immediately hit a 3-pointer off a Hunter Dennison assist, went coast-to-coast with a steal, then assisted Kaleb Jarrett’s 3 from the top of the key. When sophomore J.T. Shumate, making his first varsity start, drained a 3-pointer, Newark suddenly led 20-8 and was off to the races.
“It feels good to be a good role player and help out the team,” Thomas said. “My job is to bring the energy if it’s not there and keep it going. Tonight, we played very good together. We didn’t turn it over as much, made the extra pass and played better defense.”
Duling still led Newark with 15 points and seven rebounds, but he was grateful for his teammates’ play with him on the bench.
“They really picked it up when I was out,” he said. “Evan sets the tone. There’s always a spark when he comes in and great energy. We were in a lot more control tonight and played as a team.”
The Wildcats came back with a 10-0 second-quarter run, as Shumate and Kobe Long-Weber hit 3s, and 6-foot-5 freshman Keshawn Heard added a pair of baskets and a big block. Newark led 32-20 at the half and 55-29 heading to the fourth as Dennison assisted Thomas and Duling on 3s, and he nailed an NBA-length bomb just ahead of the third-quarter buzzer. Duling had nine of his points in the third quarter.
Thomas added 10 points and three steals, while Shumate scored all eight of his points in the first half and had six rebounds. Dennison also scored eight with three assists, Long-Weber had eight points and Jarrett three assists. Carter chipped in with three steals.
“We shared the ball well and were unselfish,” Quackenbush said. “Our guards played really strong with the ball. We had a lot of turnovers the first two games and still had 16 tonight. For us to compete for a conference title, and a district title in March, we have to get that down to 10-12 per game.”
The Wildcats will need to raise their game even more Friday at Gahanna.
“We have to come out with the same intensity, even stronger,” Duling said.
Grove City 11-9-9-12 — 41
Newark 20-12-23-19 — 74
Grove City: 14-49 FG, 9-12 FT, 4-22 3pt. (Sammeth 3,Jones), 27 rebounds (Sammeth 4, Rahrig 4), 14 turnovers, 5 Assists (Poole 3), 6 Steals (Baker 2). Scoring: Tyree 5 1-2 11, Sammeth 3 0-0 9, Jones 2 1-2 6, Dewberry 1 1-2 3, Poole 1 0-0 2, McIntire 1 0-0 2, Baker 1 0-0 2, Brown 0 2-2 2, Burgess 0 2-2 2, Rahrig 0 2-2 2.
Newark: 26-50 FG, 12-15 FT, 10-16 3pt. (Thomas 2, Shumate 2, Dennison 2, Long-Weber 2, Duling, Jarrett) 30 rebounds (Duling 7, Shumate 6), 16 turnovers, 12 Assists (Dennison 3, Jarrett 3), 14 Steals (Thomas 3, Carter 3). Scoring: Duling 5 4-6 15, Thomas 4 0-0 10, Shumate 3 0-0 8, Dennison 3 0-0 8, Long-Weber 2 2-2 8, Carter 2 3-3 7, Heard 3 0-0 6, Jarrett 2 0-0 5, Murphy 2 0-0 4, Pressley 0 3-4 3.