G. Michael Graham Photo. Highlands guard Drew Houliston (right) looks to make a move in Friday's game at Lloyd Memorial. The Bluebirds downed the Juggernauts, 41-30 to snap a nine-game losing streak to 9th Region opponents.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
ERLANGER – The odds may be against them making the 9th Region Tournament this season.
But that does not mean the Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team won’t try. They’re trying to find some positive things to build on as tournament time approaches.
Highlands found some things to build on Friday with a 41-30 win over the host Lloyd Memorial Juggernauts. The win snapped a nine-game losing streak against 9th Region opponents and let the Bluebirds avenge a season-ending 42-39 loss to the defending 34th District champions in last year’s region quarterfinals at the Bank of Kentucky Center at Northern Kentucky University. Highlands improved to 10-15 overall and 4-10 in region play and Lloyd Memorial fell to 6-15.
“Our word for (Friday) was hope,” said Mike Flynn, Highlands head coach. “When you have hope you have everything. When you have no hope, you have nothing. That’s what we need to hang our hat on.”
Both teams slowed the pace and tried to work the ball around for good shots. Highlands shot the ball better making 14-of-32 shots for 44 percent compared to 10-of-39 for Lloyd for 26 percent. The Juggernauts made just 3-of-19 three-point attempts for 16 percent while the Bluebirds missed all four three-point shots.
Highlands tried to take advantage of its size down low with Jake Gronotte and 6-foot-6-inch Nick True. The duo scored eight points each to follow Luke Turner’s game-high 12 points. True also grabbed seven rebounds.
“We’re practicing hard every day trying to get our fundamentals up,” True said. “All we’ve been doing is shooting in practice. It’s starting to help a little bit and will get better down the road.”
Lloyd won the rebounding battle, 26-25. But Highlands recorded 10 second-chance points to two for the Juggernauts.
Jarice Ewell led the Juggernauts with 10 points. He recorded two three-point plays in the second quarter. But the Bluebirds switched to a mixture of 3-2 and 2-1-2 zones to take away the Lloyd penetration after that.
“That slowed (the Juggernauts) down and kept them away from the rim,” Flynn said. “They’re a very quick team. They cut very hard probably better than anyone in the region. They were hurting us with that.”
The Bluebirds made their free throws when the Juggernauts fouled in the fourth quarter. They hit 13-of-19 attempts for 68 percent compared to 7-of-10 for 70 percent for Lloyd.
Highlands used a 6-0 run to go up 10-6 after the first quarter. Gronotte and Drew Houliston made two free throws each before True rejected a Lloyd shot then hit a jumper with 45 seconds remaining.
Lloyd tied the game at 14 before Highlands went on a 5-0 run. Bailey Witte hit a free throw before Turner scored four points. The Bluebirds led 21-18 at halftime.
The Juggernauts tied the game at 25 with 3:10 left in the third before the Bluebirds used a 6-0 run to go ahead for good. Turner hit a jumper and two free throws in that run and Gronotte hit another jumper.
Highlands then pulled away in the fourth. The Bluebirds hit 6-of-9 free throws in the game’s final 2:26 to pull away.
“You just have to take care of the ball and slow it down a bit,” Houliston said. “They were going to keep coming at us and trap us. We had to make smart decisions. I felt we did a good job of that.”
Highlands has two games left in the regular season. The Bluebirds play host to the Scott Eagles (13-11) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.