ATHENS, Ohio—A microcosm of Peebles’ season was on full display Saturday with a regional berth on the line.
While the second-seeded Indians showcased a strong overall performance in their Division IV Southeast District Championship game against fifth-seeded Franklin Furnace Green, it was the second half that propelled Peebles to a 75-56 win at Ohio University’s Convocation Center.
The Indians, who captured their fifth district crown and first since 2015, scored the contest’s first six points and didn’t have their lead fall below three for the remainder for the afternoon.
“We’ve been playing well for a while,” Peebles coach Josh Arey said. “You can see it coming in practice probably sometime around after the Piketon game (in late January), then after Manchester and Felicity, you could see a little bit of a change. It’s everybody accepting what their role is and performing in it.
“When they do it, they flourish and they are a pretty good team.”
Although the Indians (20-5) never created a major run, their stingy defense and extended offensive possessions in the second half limited any chances of a Bobcat charge. Peebles grabbed as many offensive rebounds in the third quarter—eight—that Green (16-9) was able to get in total rebounds for the stanza. The momentum continued in the fourth with the Indians scoring on their first nine possessions of the period.
“(The Bobcats) came out scrambling a little bit (defensively), trying to double us up, and we prepped for things like that where we could get Conner (Browning) in the high post and get some easy looks for Blake Hawes underneath the bucket,” Arey said.
Sophomore Weston Browning led the charge with a game-high 24 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists in the win. Tanner Arey, who was a freshman starter on Peebles’ last run to the regionals, added 23 points and was among four Indians in double figures.
While the elder Arey was pleased with the offensive efforts from Weston Browning, it was his efforts against Division IV All-Southeast District First Teamer Tanner Kimbler on the defensive side of the ball that drew more attention. The junior, who averaged 22 points during the regular season, was held to 14 in the contest.
“(Weston) would not have had to have scored a point and he would’ve been our player of the game, just for his defense on Kimbler,” Josh Arey said. “He picked (Kimbler) up full court, chasing him through screens.”
With Green sticking with a six-man rotation for most of the contest, Peebles’ depth and length was prevalent in the second half. The Indians displayed their collective grit with a 48-17 edge in overall rebounds, 21-7 lead on the offensive glass, a 44-34 scoring advantage in the paint, and a 22-12 favor in second-chance points.
Bostin Robinson was the biggest beneficiary with the extended opportunities. The senior finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds. Six of his boards were from the offensive side and six points completed an extended possession.
“We knew that they were little so we had to crash the boards,” Robinson said. “In the first half, we didn’t plug (the paint) very good, (but) we made adjustments in the second half.”
Eight of Hawes’ 10 points came in the fourth.
The next challenge is a Division IV regional semifinal appearance Tuesday with Coal Grove. The Hornets, who were a No. 1 seed in the Meigs sectional, dispatched No. 7 South Webster 61-39 in Saturday’s first Division IV Southeast District final.
As the third trip to the Sweet Sixteen in eight years with Josh Arey at the helm approaches, he learned a variety of lessons in the prior two trips that he hopes will be the keys in overcoming a strong Hornets squad led by district coach of the year Kevin Vanderhoof.
“I learned my lesson three years ago,” Josh Arey said. “Four years ago when we won (the district), I was a deer-in-the-headlights. Three years ago, it was coaching not to lose instead of coaching to win.
“I told myself after that we’d never do that again… I talked to Tanner about it and he knew it too.”
Tanner Arey, who was also a First Team all-district selection by the media earlier this week, will be counted upon more than ever with his experience in such a high-stakes situation.
“This is the first time in three years (where) we’ve gotten to the tournament and I could say that we’re playing our best basketball,” Tanner Arey said. “In the past, we peaked too early.”