Canton South plays ugly. And as the Wildcats have done pretty much all season, they win.
No one would have blamed Frank Spotleson if he was a boys basketball coach in a bad mood Tuesday night.
His Canton South Wildcats committed eight turnovers in the fourth quarter. They shot 2-of-7 from the foul line in the final two minutes.
A 17-point lead with just more than five minutes left was almost cut to a single possession by visiting St. Thomas Aquinas in the final 10 seconds.
But here’s the thing: The end result was a win, 57-51. It was South’s 15th victory, more than doubling its total from the past three years combined.
“You can be frustrated, but they’re still doing some awfully good things,” said Spotleson, who has watched his team struggle in recent fourth quarters. “The last thing you want to do is be negative. You want them to continue to progress.”
Progress is happening at Canton South High School.
At 15-2, the Wildcats have won their most games since 16 in 2005-06 and are in the hunt for an NBC title.
A patient offense and a lot of pressure defense helped South build a big lead Tuesday in Charles “Red” Ash Gymnasium. Then, the Wildcats nearly came undone in the fourth.
“It’s ugly to watch. It’s difficult to coach. But you know what? You’ve got to have confidence in those kids,” Spotleson said. “We show confidence in them and that turns into confidence on the court.”
Up four early in the third quarter, South took control with the help of some turnovers by the Knights.
Armand Fontes scored five points and assisted on two Kyle Deckerd baskets — the second an alley-oop layup — to account for a quick 10-0 burst.
When Dejon Newell buried a 3-pointer after an Aquinas timeout, the run stretched to 13-0 and South’s lead was 43-26 with 2:58 left in the third.
The Knights did not fold after South started to throw the ball all over the gym in the fourth quarter. Will Burger scored nine of his team-high 15 points in the fourth to key Aquinas’ comeback.
When Sam Pusateri, inbounding the ball, bounced a pass to himself off a South defender’s back and scored a layup with 23.5 seconds left, Aquinas was within six.
But the Knights (9-8) simply ran out of time.
“I don’t judge us by the scoreboard. I judge us by how hard we play throughout the game,” Aquinas head coach Matt Hackenberg said. “That’s why I’m disappointed, because if we had played as hard as we did in the fourth quarter (earlier in the game), we wouldn’t have had that hole to dig ourselves out of.”
Anthony Snyder scored 11 points and Anthony Moeglin totaled five assists for Aquinas, which shot 38.9 percent from the floor and had 19 turnovers.
Page 2 of 2 - Said Hackenberg, “What’s holding us back from beating good teams ... is turnovers and energy lulls.”
Fontes totaled 15 points, five assists and three steals, while Deckerd had 10 points, four assists and four steals. Trey Taylor scored 11 points and Josh Lyon 10. Austin Jolliff grabbed nine rebounds for the Wildcats.