Tyler Hart, Contributor
GREENFIELD – Behind a strong effort on the defensive end and after a physical battle, McClain picked up an imperative win on Tuesday evening in front of its home fans.
The Tigers held off Unioto in a game that will surely have Division II tournament seeding implications, beating the Shermans by a 49-34 final.
“Our entire team are throwbacks,” McClain coach Joe B. Stewart said. “They are very much about the name on the front of their jersey. They take pride in where they come from and what we are trying to do here.”
An unorthodox start to the game took place with no tip-off. A pair of technical fouls were called against McClain when the Tigers were caught dunking in pregame warm-ups.
That sent Unioto’s Evan Park to the free throw line and gave the Shermans a 2-0 lead before the clock ticked once after Park made 2-of-4 tries.
When the actual action started, the opening quarter was a back-and-forth affair as both squads found scoring in an array of ways.
Six different scorers graced the score sheet for McClain while four Shermans etched their name in the book to open the game. McClain’s Bryson Badgley found his rhythm early in keeping possessions alive with three offensive boards alongside an assist — where he found teammate Seth Wise underneath for an easy lay-in.
Wise’s score on Badgley’s assist gave McClain a 12-11 advantage heading into the second.
The season’s scoring leaders of both Unioto and McClain took over in the second as Unioto’s Desean Branson nailed the team’s second 3-pointer in the game before adding another bucket.
Meanwhile, McClain kept rolling as Badgley continued to perfect his shot, adding in two deep balls of his own. He also made a scrappy play underneath the rim and was able to power his way up for a score.
Badgley’s strong play, alongside the efforts of teammate Kendyll Toney, helped the Tigers take a 26-21 advantage into halftime.
The third went as expected as the physicality started to take center stage.
Unioto prevented scores on its defensive end, but McClain returned the favor.
The Shermans were held to only two made field goals in the third as the Tigers’ defense was too much. McClain forced Unioto to turn the ball over several times. However, offensively, the Tigers couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity — scoring just nine points in the quarter.
“Our defense was where it needed to be,” Stewart said. “We need to be in position and when the ball is in the air for three seconds, we have to box out and keep them off.”
McClain’s Preston Suanders, who has grown into his role as the team’s point guard, may not score or play as flashy as a few of his teammates. But Saunders was able to facilitate and help the Tigers find open lanes. That’s exactly what he did throughout the rest of the night.
“Preston Saunders may have not hit double figures in points, but he hit double figures in good decisions tonight,” Stewart said. “He’s evolved into the guard that we must have. He’s taken one of the top two scorers each game, defensively. He has been the senior that we needed him to be.”
Holding a nine-point lead going into the fourth quarter at 35-26, McClain never looked back and continued to apply pressure on Unioto, which limited scoring opportunities.
Toney for the Tigers added to his scoring total with his second 3-pointer in the contest alongside two more made layups.
He’d end the night with 17 points while his co-host was Badgley, scoring 13. That duo seems to have a connection where, when one isn’t scoring, the other is. Badgley scored 11 of his 13 in the opening half whereas Toney scored 10 of 17 in the second.
“When your two leading scorers are willing passers, chances are you are going to have a special year,” Stewart said.
The Tigers held a 14-8 advantage in the final quarter, which gave them an important 49-34 win.
Unioto will attempt to get back on track on Thursday, hosting another FAC opponent in Hillsboro. Meanwhile, the Tigers will be in action the same evening, hosting Fayetteville.
“You don’t beat Unioto by 15 with luck,” Stewart said. “The team with more opportunities in a matchup like this has the greater chance of winning. I think our unselfishness is more than intangible. It’s a tangible part that was easily seen tonight.”