REBEL YELL: Southwestern’s Matthew Williams (top) lets out a triumphant yell after the Class 2A No. 6 Rebels defeated Columbus East at home on Saturday. (Staff photo by David Campbell)
REBEL YELL: Southwestern’s Matthew Williams (top) lets out a triumphant yell after the Class 2A No. 6 Rebels defeated Columbus East at home on Saturday. (Staff photo by David Campbell)
Fans in Hanover have long viewed Southwestern’s game against Columbus East on Saturday as the Rebels’ first big test of the 2018-19 season. Well, consider that test passed.

Southwestern, ranked sixth in Class 2A, forced turnovers on three-straight possessions — all on steals by Foster Mefford — and converted them into points to pull out a 72-65 win in front of a large home crowd Saturday at King Gym in Hanover.

It wasn’t an easy win, even if the Rebels made it look easy at times. Southwestern led by as many as 12 in the fourth quarter before East roared back to close the gap to one despite having its two best players on the bench after fouling out.

But Foster Mefford sank seven free throws in the final three minutes and Tyler Kramer scored the Rebels’ final four points to lift Southwestern to its biggest regular-season win in 20 years.

“It feels good. That was a big win,” said Kramer, who led the Rebels with 22 points. “They’re a 4A school and they’re a good team. It was their first game and we can’t forget that, but this was a good win.”

“We’ve got to be happy. This is the type of team that we’re going to have to beat to advance in the tournament,” Southwestern coach Jerry Bomholt said. “They’re a 4A school and well-coached. I thought we did a decent job. A couple of times we lost the ball and it got real physical, but those are things you’ve got to play through.”

Southwestern won 24 games a year ago and returned all but one of its regulars from that team. That reason alone has many in Hanover dreaming of a return to the state finals, where they last played in 1998.

The Rebels played both Columbus East and Jeffersonville during that magical season and whether it was on purpose — or just a happy accident — Southwestern scheduled both Hoosier Hills Conference schools again this year. Saturday’s matchup against East was the first big test of the year.

After a slow start, Southwestern (4-0) took the lead late in the first quarter on a Kramer 3-pointer and slowly pulled away, leading 29-22 at halftime.

The Rebels’ offense went silent for the first five minutes of the third, allowing East to tie the game at 29-29, but Southwestern quickly answered with a 13-6 run to close the period and take a 42-35 lead into the fourth.

Southwestern seemingly put the game away over the first four minutes of the fourth quarter. The Olympians’ Matthew Frost fouled out early in the quarter and Drew Johnson followed him shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, Kramer hit a three, Matthew Williams followed with two more treys and the Rebels held a 59-47 lead with 3:47 to play.

But any thoughts of a blowout win quickly went by the wayside. East (0-1) began chipping into the Rebel lead, getting 3-pointers from Jacob Pierce and Carson Whitehead as part of an 18-6 run by the Olympians.

It was Whitehead’s 3-pointer with 1:22 to go to cut the margin to three and, after an East timeout, Daniel Murphy picked up a steal, was fouled and hit both free throws to cut the Southwestern lead to 66-65 with 1:05 left in the game.

But rather than panic, Southwestern showed why many think the Rebels have what it takes to ultimately play their final game of the season for a title in Indianapolis. Mefford hit one of his two free throws then, after an East timeout, forced an East turnover along the sideline.

Hunter Mefford then hit one of his two freebies for the Rebels and Foster Mefford was there again, getting a steal as the Olympians marched the ball down the floor. Kramer was fouled and sank both tosses to give Southwestern a 70-65 lead with 12 seconds to go.

Foster Mefford then sealed the win with yet another steal, hitting Kramer in stride down the floor and the senior converted the layup with three seconds to go for the final margin.

“We work on that in practice a lot. We’re always down by five to the jayvee and we have to catch up,” Kramer said of the Rebels’ last-minute rally. “That helped us out a lot. We were able to handle it.”

Bomholt said that while he wasn’t necessarily thrilled that the Rebels needed a late rally to put the game away, he was happy with his team’s overall performance.

“We were playing not to lose instead of playing at the end to extend the lead,” Bomholt said. “We had them down 10-12, let’s try to get it to 15; let’s try to get it to 20 and the game is over. I thought we got real passive on defense; we let them make some cuts in the middle of our zone that we don’t usually allow because we were trying not to foul. That’s one of the reasons why in the last minute we went back to the pressure and trapped it.”

Kramer, the school’s fourth all-time leading scorer, added to his career total with 22 more points while Foster Mefford had a career-high 19 points on 4-of-7 shooting — 10-of-11 on free throws — while stuffing the stat sheet with four rebounds, six assists and six steals while playing all 32 minutes.

Bomholt said Mefford’s success didn’t surprise him and that people will have to start watching the sophomore guard from here on.

“People are going to learn about Foster as we go. We have all great kids and great players, but if there is one kid that I can pick out that has upped his game level from last year, it’s Foster because now he’s become a scorer,” Bomholt said. “He’s looking to shoot and looking to penetrate and looking to score rather than just looking to penetrate and kick it. That allows us to have four guys averaging double figures and that makes it hard for teams to match up with us.”

Williams hit four 3-pointers an route to 14 total points for Southwestern, which shot 46 percent (20-of-44) from the floor including 10-of-19 (53 percent) on 3-pointers.

East’s Whitehead scored 24 points to lead all scorers while Beck Kelley had 15 points and Tyler Boyce scored 11 for the Olympians. East shot nearly 60 percent (25-of-43) from the floor but was overwhelmed at the free-throw line where they went 11-of-13 to the Rebels’ 22-of-29.

Southwestern returns to action on Friday when it travels to New Washington.

———

SATURDAY’S BOYS GAME

at Hanover

CLASS 2A No. 6 SOUTHWESTERN 72,

COLUMBUS EAST 65



COLUMBUS EAST 14 8 13 30 — 65

SOUTHWESTERN 15 14 13 30 — 72



COLUMBUS EAST (0-1) — (g)Whitehead 24, (g)Kelley 15, Boyer 11, (f)Pierce 8, (f)Frost 3, (g)Johnson 2, Murphy 2, Major 0, Chandler 0.

SOUTHWESTERN (4-0) — (g)Kramer 22, (g)F. Mefford 19, (f)Williams 14, (g)Cole 8, (f)H. Mefford 4, A. Kramer 3, Mills 2.



3-Point Goals — Columbus East 4 (Whitehead 3, Kelley 1), Southwestern 10 (T. Kramer 4, Williams 4, A. Kramer 1, F. Mefford 1). Rebounds — Columbus East 25 (Kelley 6, Whitehead 6), Southwestern 21 (Cole 5). Assists — Columbus East 12 (Pierce 4), Southwestern 13 (F. Mefford 6). Turnovers — Columbus East 14, Southwestern 12. Total Fouls — Columbus East 26, Southwestern 13. Free Throws — Columbus East 11-13, Southwestern 22-29. Fouled Out — Columbus East: Frost, Johnson.