Ironton reaches district finals with easy win

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

ATHENS — The Belpre Eagles’ defensive plan was a triangle and two that would take away Ironton’s Dennis Gagai and force the rest of the Fighting Tigers to beat them.

They did, with more than enough help from Gagai.

Belpre’s strategy backfired as the Fighting Tigers proved they were more than a one-man team with their defense and team play on offense. When Belpre adjusted, Gagai went on a scoring spree and finished with 30 points as Ironton rolled past the Eagles 78-53 Tuesday in the Division III district semifinals at Ohio University.

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“I was impressed with our defense. I was impressed with how well we moved the ball and passed the ball,” Ironton coach Mark LaFon said. “We were so unselfish. I saw us do things that I haven’t seen us do in practice.

“They were using a triangle and two and denying Dennis the ball. Everyone stepped up and in the second half they had to go man and Dennis got all the shots he wanted. He had shots the first half, but he didn’t have to work as hard.”

Marc Carter stepped up and scored 11 points to go with six steals and three assists. Alstan Carter stepped up with four assists and two steals. Brandon Walker stepped up with five rebounds and two assists. Michael Phillips stepped up with four rebounds and six points.

And the stepping continued with Gagai who had 10 rebounds, three assists and four steals to go with his 30 points — 21 in the second half — that included six 3-pointers.

“The first half, all the guys were nervous coming out. The second half we realized it was just another game and not to do anything special,” Gagai said.

“They were trying to deny me most of the game, but Brandon and Marc and Alstan made some nice passes and that got us going.”

Not only did Ironton get going, but the Fighting Tigers (17-5) will keep going as they play Southern Hills League champion North Adams (18-4) at 8 p.m. Saturday in the district finals. The Green Devils beat Minford 59-49 in Wednesday’s first game.

Ironton led 14-12 when T.J. Keith followed up a missed shot with six seconds left in the first quarter. Marc Carter then stole the ball and scored to put the lead at 18-12

Steals by Walker, Alstan Carter and Gagai ignited a 9-2 run to begin the second quarter and the lead was suddenly 27-14 with 5:46 on the clock.

Layups by Scott Loyland and Brad Loyland got Belpre within 31-23 with 1:48 left in the half. Phillips followed up a missed shot only to have Dustin Adams get two foul shots for the Eagles.

Ironton played for a final shot and when the defense swarmed Gagai, Marc Carter dished to Trevor Allen for a layup and the lead was 35-25 at intermission.

The Fighting Tigers used another spurt to begin the second half and virtually decided the outcome.

Walker hit a 3-pointer to open the third quarter. Two steals by Marc Carter and one by Gagai fueled a 10-3 spurt capped by Gagai’s 3-pointer and it was 45-28 with 5:26 left in the quarter.

“The biggest part of the game all happened at halfcourt. We forced three turnovers in a row and everyone of our guys stayed with their man,” LaFon said.

A layup and 3-pointer by Gagai builed a 58-35 Ironton lead with 1:32 on the clock. Jordan Thornhill converted 3 of 4 from the line to close the quarter for Belpre, then hit a pair of 3-pointers to begin the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 58-44.

A layup by Jared Murphy off a pass from Walker stopped the run and a 3-poiner by Gagai with 4:19 left pushed the lead to 64-46. Gagai delivered the final dagger with a 3-pointer and it was 71-51 with 2:06 to go.

Thornhill led Belpre (14-8) with 24 points.



IRONTON (17-5):

Dennis Gagai 11-21 (6-13) 2-2 30, Alstan Carter 2-8 (0-0) 0-0 4, Marc Carter 5-13 (0-2) 1-1 11, Brandon Walker 2-5 (1-2) 0-0 5, Michael Phillips 2-2 (0-0) 2-2 6, T.J. Keith 3-4 (0-0) 1-4 7, Trevor Allen 1-1 (0-0) 2-2 4,Troy Allen 2-7 (0-1) 0-0 4, J.J. Johnson 0-4 (0-0) 0-0 0, Jared Murphy 1-1 (0-0) 0-0 2, Andy Colegrove 0-0 (0-0) 0-0 0, Drew Kuehne 1-1 (1-1) 0-0 3, Nick Lewis 0-1 (0-0) 0-0 0, Shannon Hensley 1-1 (0-0) 0-0 2. Totals: 31-69



78. Fouls: 18. Fouled out: None. Rebounds: 19-22=41 (Gagai 10, Keith 6, Walker 5, A. Carter 5, Phillips 4, M. Carter 4). Team/deadball rebounds: 6. Assists: 14 (A. Carter 4, Gagai 3, M. Carter 3, Walker 2, Troy Allen 2). Steals: 14. (M. Carter 6, Gagai 4, A. Carter 2). Turnovers: 17. Blocked shots: Gagai 1.

BELPRE (14-8):

Brad Loyland 2-3 (0-0) 0-0 4, Zach Alkire 2-9 (0-4) 1-2 5, Jordan Thornhill 7-18 (7-12) 3-6 24, Dustin Adams 2-13 (0-8) 3-5 7, Broc Pittenger 2-5 (0-0) 2-3 6, Scott Loyland 1-1 (0-0) 0-0 2, Alex Earley 0-1 (0-0) 0-0 0, Micah Pfalzgraf 2-6 (0-0) 0-1 4. Totals: 18-56



53. Fouls: 14. Fouled out: Pittenger (4th 1:26). Rebounds: 11-18=29 (Pittenger 8, B. Loyland 4, S. Loyland 4, Pfalzgraf 4). Team/deadball rebounds: 6. Assists: 3 (three with 1). Steals: 5 (five with 1). Turnovers: 20.