|Harding's Free Throws Propel Wildcats to Crucial 36th District Win|
|PHOTO: Dale Dawn. Highlands senior Ben Sisson (30) goes up between two Newport defenders including Tahj Harding (32) in the 36th District battle Monday. Newport won 66-64.|
In fact, Highlands created mismatches of its own there. That let the Bluebirds rally from down down nine in the middle of the fourth quarter and have a chance to win it at the end. But Newport etched out a thrilling 66-64 win in Fort Thomas on Monday in 36th District action.
"We showed a lot of resiliency, a lot of toughness. That's a credit to our kids in just staying with the process," said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "We didn't get the result that we wanted. But we did a lot of good things, especially down the stretch, to give ourselves an opportunity to win the game. I told the kids after they beat Covington Catholic one game is not a season-make and this is the same type of thing. You're going to go through a season where you'll win a couple close one and lose a couple close ones. The key is to continue to grow, get better and be at our best when we get to tournament time."
With less than five seconds left in the game after a Highlands missed free throw, Newport senior forward Tahj Harding dribbled hard up-court toward the hoop. He drew a foul inside the three-point line and made both with .4 seconds left to lift the Wildcats (6-1 overall, 2-0 district) to victory. Highlands is 6-2 overall and 1-1 in district play.
"There during the timeout, we were trying to get Tahj Harding or (senior guard) Donnie Miller the ball so they are at the free throw line," said Rodney Snapp, Newport Head Coach. "They're three-year starters. They should be comfortable in those situations. Those are guys we want to shoot free throws in a tight game."
Harding finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. He also had three assists.
Newport had a hard time defending Highlands senior forward Ben Sisson in the paint. Sisson finished with a double-double of 22 points and 13 rebounds. Sisson also had three assists and four blocked shots.
Sisson had to sit the rest of the third quarter when he picked up his third foul with 4:41 left in the quarter. But Highlands never fell behind by more than six points during that time.
A big difference in the game came from three-point range. Newport made 7-of-15 for 47 percent compared to 5-of-18 for 28 percent for Highlands. Miller made two triples on his way to a team-high 25 points and senior guard Zien Garland also made two on his way to 10 points.
"We were trying to reel in our shot selection. We've been shooting 21 percent from the three-point line," Snapp said. "We have to be aggressive going to the rim, create for others and stick together. We have our three top scorers. But our role guys are huge. We knew it was going to be a tough environment no matter what."
Overall, Highlands made 23-of-49 shots for 47 percent and 13-of-20 free throws for 65 percent. Newport made 25-of-51 shots for 49 percent and 9-of-10 free throws for 90 percent. Sophomore point guard Sam Vinson added 12 points for Highlands making 6-of-8 free throws.
"When you make more (free throws) than your opponents shoot, that's really the goals," Listerman said. "We took care of it there. What we didn't do is defend the three-point line as well as we have been and really guard them the way we have been. Give credit to Newport. (The Wildcats) made shots when they had to."
Highlands also had six blocked shots, three steals, 31 rebounds, 15 assists and eight turnovers. Newport had one steal, six assists, eight turnovers, 27 rebounds and no blocked shots. Vinson also had five assists.
Newport came out and scored the game's first eight points building a 16-9 lead after the first quarter. But Highlands came back and took the lead at 22-21 following two Vinson free throws. The teams exchanged leads the next few minutes. Newport led 31-30 at halftime.
The game stayed close in the third quarter. Senior Nate Roberts gave the Bluebirds their lone lead of the second half with 2:22 left in the third making a three-pointer from the right wing at 42-41.
But Newport took it back just more than 30 seconds later. Senior Will Salmon made a triple to cut the margin to 47-45 before Miller hit a half-court three-pointer to give Newport a 50-45 lead after three quarters.
Highlands fought back late in the game with pressure at various points on the floor. Sisson had several scores to pull the Bluebirds within one. He drew a foul with five seconds left and hit the first free throw to tie the game at 64.
Highlands plays host to the Hamilton (Ohio) Big Blue (1-3) on Saturday. Game time is 3:30 p.m.