LIMA — It was the Northwest Central Conference championship game and which team handled adversity best was going to walk away with the win.
Upper Scioto Valley lost its big man — 6-foot-5 center Woody Prater — to two early fouls while Temple saw two starters, Evan Sutton and Taylor Zweibel, go to the bench with a bloody nose and cut above the eye respectively early in the contest.
The host Pioneers (12-5, 6-1 NWCC) responded in a big way behind an outstanding performance by Justin Kroehler, who poured in a game-high 34 points, and grabbed the game and league title with a 70-55 victory Friday night before a standing room only crowd.
Kroehler came out on fire and hit five straight 3-pointers in the first half to jump start the Temple effort. Kroehler ended the half with 17 points and sent the Pioneers to the locker room with a 30-19 lead at the break.
“I was feeling it and my teammates kept getting me the ball,” Kroehler said. “It’s the result of a lot of practice. I knew they were going in, they felt good when I released them.”
The Rams meanwhile were growing increasingly frustrated as they couldn’t buy a bucket and shot 29 percent (13-for-44) over the first three quarters. That frustration boiled over into two technical fouls in the third period that saw the Pioneers go to the free line 19 times and connect on 15 and their lead expanded to 49-31 going to the fourth quarter.
“We allowed outside things to disrupt what we had done all year long,” USV coach Jeff Kloepfer said. “Mentally we got taken out of the game and our loss of composure caused us to get into a funk; our mind was not on playing and we have to stop that.”
The Rams (11-4, 5-2 NWCC) sent the Pioneers to the free throw line 45 times in the game and Temple took advantage by hitting 34 of them for 75 percent.
“We battled hard and attacked the rim and made them guard us,” Pioneers coach Bruce Bowman said. “I’m proud of our guys, we had to execute at both ends of the floor and needed to stop their penetration; we held them to 19 points in the first half.”
Andrew Rhoad added 13 points for Temple Christian and Sutton bounced back from his bloody nose to chip in with 11.
Kroehler connected on 7-of-9 from the floor (5-for-5 on treys) and 15-of-17 from the free throw line in his big effort.
“Justin had the big night and his leadership was a key for us,” Bowman said. “Andrew (Rhoad) and Evan (Sutton) also stepped up tonight.”
The Rams were led in scoring by Shane Rofe with 12 points while Lane Hurley added 11 and Prater chipped in with 10 for USV.
“We got open on penetration for those 10-12 foot shots but we didn’t hit those,” Kloepfer said. “I’m disappointed but it falls back on me to prepare them better.”
Temple committed 18 turnovers in the game compared to only 10 for the Rams but the Pioneers won the battle of the boards by a 29-25 margin.