Cougars nearly upset No. 1 team

Poor outside shooting hurts in defeat

Ten days isn’t a long time to determine how much improvement has been made for a basketball team.

But when you play the same team twice within that short stretch, it can offer a bit of a barometer.

Back on Feb. 10, Class A No. 1 University controlled the pace and game, knocking off host Greenwood Christian by 18 points.

Tuesday night was a different story, even if the end result was the same.

Sure, University won 44-40, but the manner in which Greenwood Christian played was impressive — and if not for a lackluster shooting night, the Cougars could have pulled the upset.

“We had great focus on practice and had the edge on defense,” Greenwood Christian coach Jonny Marlin said. “And I thought we had some good shots, but they were not falling in the basket.”

The Cougars (13-9) were a dismal 2 for 25 from beyond the 3-point line.

University (19-2) was not without its problems either, turning the ball over twice as many times as the Cougars did (14), which explains why the Trailblazers could not get a lead of more than nine points.

That was lucky for the Cougars, who were coming off of consecutive games of 90 points or more.

As Marlin cited, the Cougars’ defense atoned for the lack of offense; the Trailblazers were not exactly on fire from the field either, scoring most of their field goals inside the paint.

Entering the fourth quarter, University held a slim 32-29 lead that grew to five points, but the Cougars didn’t go away. Sophomore Champ McCorkle scored six of his 10 points in the fourth, including a key 3-pointer that drew the Cougars to within one point with 2:37 to play.

But countering McCorkle’s play for Greenwood Christian was University senior David Howard, who had 7 of his 13 points in the fourth.

Howard hit on two field goals and was 3 for 4 from the free-throw line, but his presence was also felt on defense and on the boards as he grabbed five rebounds in the quarter.

Two free throws by Sam Mervis with seven seconds left sealed the win for the Trailblazers.

Junior Payton Modlin led the Cougars with 11 points. Howard was joined by teammate Josh Watson for game-high honors with 13 points.

Greenwood Christian will take on Providence Cristo Rey in the first round of the Class A Lutheran Sectional next Wednesday.

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Ken Severson is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal.