ROCHELLE – Hustle and effort will give a basketball team a competitive chance against a deeper, more talented opponent, but sooner or later that talent will come to the surface.
On Wednesday night, it did for the Rochelle Hubs in the person of Ryan Simmons.
The Ottawa Pirates scratched, clawed and showed both great hustle and great patience to stay with and even lead the Interstate Eight Conference power into the fourth quarter, but down the stretch Simmons proved the difference in the Hubs’ intense 63-56 victory.
After a huge game-tying 3-pointer from reserve Elijah Luxton knotted the score at 49, Simmons poured in 11 straight Hubs points to take the hosts out to a 60-54 advantage. From there, Rochelle made just enough of its free throws – 9 of 14 in the final period – to hold off the spunky Pirates for its fifth win in six I-8 contests, now 10-8 overall.
Simmons led all scorers with 20 points, with Tanner Lager adding 15 points and Adam Kemp 12 points and seven rebounds for RTHS.
For the Pirates – who erased a six-point first-quarter deficit with a manic 24-14 second, but still fell to 8-6 overall and 2-2 in the league this season — Luke Cushing posted 17 points and eight rebounds. Six-foot, 5-inch senior center Braiden Miller, against a passel of taller, brawnier Hubs posts, came away with 14 points and a game-high 10 caroms.
“We gave ourselves an opportunity tonight. We just have to be a little better late,” Ottawa coach Mark Cooper said. “I didn’t feel like we matched their physicality early in the game, but then as we approached the end of the first quarter, we rose to the occasion and battled better on the boards and against their physical play. …
“But two times in a row we lost guys in transition and they hit 3s in the fourth quarter, then we had too many empty (offensive) possessions late. … Simmons is really good, but we let him operate with a little too much space in the second half.
“But I saw a lot of good things tonight, a lot of things I think we can build on moving on from here.”
Rochelle started out looking a lot more comfortable than the Pirates on their offensive end, but five points each from the Millers, Braiden and Anthony, kept OHS within 16-10.
In the second stanza, Ottawa negated the Hubs’ size by rebounding harder (14-5) and pressuring more on the perimeter to deny entry passes, forcing the home team to settle for 3s. Though four of their five makes in the period were from beyond the arc, the Pirates still surged ahead by getting to the line (8-of-10) and the shooting of Cushing. His buzzer-beater off a long rebound gave the visitors a 34-30 lead at intermission.
But Ottawa’s struggles on offense and Rochelle’s foul trouble kept both in limbo until a Payton Knoll bucket and two Trace Roether tosses gave OHS a 49-46 edge early in the fourth.
That’s where Simmons got hot. From the 49-all tie, he hit two free throws, a drive to the rim and a 3 from the key at the 3:27 mark for a 56-51 Hubs edge.
After a Cushing 3 cut that lead to two, Simmons made four straight tosses to all but ice the win.
“This was a tale of two different teams,” Rochelle coach Tim Thompson said. “Ottawa and Coach Cooper like to work you, work you, work you until they get the shot they want, and we’re a team that wants to be up-tempo and score in transition. But we had to play a little more of Ottawa’s game because of the foul trouble we were in, so give our kids credit too. They did a nice job down the stretch, working hard enough to make them shoot shots they didn’t make, then get the rebounds.
“When we tried to get it inside, give Ottawa credit for helping really hard from the weak side so our best option was to fake it there and skip. … We try to shoot 30 quality 3s a game, but we needed more patience when Ottawa would let us go inside to get the 3s we wanted.”