FREDERICKTOWN — In a game that looked like it was all but over after Highland scored the first 16 points of the night, Fredericktown rallied to take a lead into the fourth, before Andrew Wheeler had 14 in the period to close the door and give the Scots a 56-54 win over the Freddies.
“I was pretty much taking what the defense gave me,” Wheeler said. “I was pretty much open from the three-point line so I took my shots and they luckily went in.”
Wheeler did not have the easiest path to the fourth quarter, getting into foul trouble early in the second quarter. He had to sit most of the second and third quarters before returning to the floor for the fourth with four fouls and the Scots down one.
“That was all Andrew Wheeler,” Highland coach Chris Powell said. “To stay mentally locked in is just incredible on his part. We asked him to come in and not foul out, to rebound, to guard, to knock down shots, to handle the ball, to make free throws, all while basically not having played for forever. That is a huge testament to his mental ability and his character and strength. Without him, we don’t walk out of here with a win.”
The Freddies went into the fourth quarter up 33-32, but the Scots took control of the final eight minutes. Wheeler took control and splashed home three 3-pointers to put the Scots in front 45-38 with 4:35 to go. A Nick Cunningham three cut the lead to 53-48, but a pair of Wheeler freebies pushed the edge back to seven with 34 seconds to go. Lincoln Cunningham was fouled shooting behind the arc and he nailed all three of his free-throw attempts, giving the Scots a 55-51 lead with 14 ticks remaining. Ian Taylor knocked down a free throw before Nick Cunningham drained a shot from downtown with one second to go, but it was not enough, giving the Scots a two-point win.
“We’ve got to do a better job of recognizing they’ve got a couple guys you can’t leave,” Fredericktown coach Derek Dibling said. “We know that, everybody in the gym knows that, but credit to them, (Wheeler) shook loose and we didn’t do enough to guard him.”
The game appeared to be over in the early stages, with the five Scot starters combining for the first 16 points of the game. Chase Carpenter and Wheeler had five points apiece in the opening period.
“Our guys did a great job of sharing the ball and moving it around in the first quarter,” Powell said. “Defensively, we were just locked in. Our defensive rotations were perfect. We had guys in the right spot. We had guys prepared. We sat down and really made it difficult for them.”
It wasn’t until there were five seconds left in the first that the Freddies scored, with Caleb Sheriff coming in off the bench and knocking down a three.
“It was everything — turnovers, guys not on the same page, not in the flow, not ready to play — I don’t know,” Dibling said of the first quarter. “I can honestly say it’s been a long time since I’ve seen that group play that uncharacteristic.”
The late three provided a spark for the Freddies heading into the second, though. Lincoln Cunningham netted 10 points in the second to lead the Freddies to 17 in the quarter and cut Highland’s lead to 23-20 at halftime. He tacked on another six points in the third and the home team outscored the Scots 13-9 in the third quarter to go into the final period up one, before Wheeler took over with his 14 points in the fourth.
Wheeler finished with 21 points, including 12 points from behind the arc. Mack Anglin kicked in 11 points and led the Scots with seven boards, two assists and two steals. Taylor had eight points, while Chase Carpenter and Noah Dado added seven and six points, respectively. The pair also combined for 10 boards, three assists and three steals. Dado recorded all three blocks in the game. Branton Howard had the last three points for Highland on a make from deep.
After not scoring in the first quarter, Lincoln Cunningham finished with a game-high 24 points, which he paired with five boards. Nick Cunningham contributed 12 points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal. Terry Fearn and Ty Hatfield notched four points apiece, with Fearn leading the way on the glass, recording six rebounds. Jake Partington, Mason Finnell, Conner Zolman and Sheriff combined for the remaining 10 points.
The loss drops Fredericktown down to 9-7 and 7-4 in the Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference, putting the Freddies third behind Highland and Centerburg. Fredericktown returns to action Friday on the road against East Knox, tipping off JV action at 6 p.m. Highland improved to 11-6 on the year with a league-leading 10-1 mark in the KMAC. The Scots host another conference foe Friday in Cardington, starting with JV at 6 p.m.
“For us, it keeps us in first place and it gives us a chance to celebrate a gritty, tough win on the road, which is not easy to do in any league game,” Powell said of the win. “Then it allows us to focus gears to taking care of business on Friday.”