The Licking Heights High School boys basketball team is learning how to cope when Babe Murphy isn't on the court.
The Hornets would much rather play with their 6-foot-4 senior standout. After all, he was averaging 22.3 points and 10.3 rebounds from his position on the wing through 10 games.
But on Jan. 15 during a 57-54 overtime loss to Johnstown, Murphy got in early foul trouble and fouled out for the second time in four games.
When Murphy picked up his fourth foul and subsequent technical for his fifth personal with 2 minutes, 21 seconds left in the third quarter, the Hornets trailed 34-28. The Johnnies pushed their lead to 51-37 over the next 4:34.
But with Douglas Benniefield and Dante Burnette leading an offensive surge keyed by a pressure defense sparked by Martell Davis, who finished with nine steals, the Hornets closed regulation with a 15-1 run.
"We have that ability to turn it up a notch defensively, but it's a gamble and sometimes you don't want to use it too much because you can also give up layups," said coach Nathan Clark, whose team was 6-6 overall and 5-5 in the LCL before playing Granville on Jan. 17. "It was a great comeback and I think the kids are learning that they don't necessarily have to rely on Babe to do everything."
In overtime, Burnette missed the front end of a one-and-one with the Hornets trailing 55-54 with 13.9 seconds left. After Johnstown's William Orr made two free throws, the Hornets worked the ball to Blake Beaver on the right wing and his 3-point attempt at the buzzer bounced off the back of the rim.
Benniefield scored 10 of his 12 points in the final 5:32 of regulation, including a layup with 4 seconds left that tied the game at 52 and forced overtime.
Burnette finished with 19 points and seven rebounds, picking up much of the slack when Murphy went to the bench in the first half in foul trouble. Murphy scored all nine of his points in the first quarter and finished with seven rebounds.
"I know when Babe is off the floor that I need to pick up the scoring because my teammates expect that from me," Burnette said. "It was crazy the way we all came together to come back like that. We wanted it real bad and we started playing great defense and just went after the ball on rebounds and loose balls."
Clark was impressed by the effort, but would like to see that defensive intensity throughout a game.
"It's a moral victory and confidence-builder for them to know they can play like that," Clark said. "But when your leader goes out and everyone steps up, you wonder why that doesn't happen when Babe is on the floor. I'd like to see that defensive intensity all the time and I'd like the guys to play with confidence even with Babe on the floor."
Struggles continue for girls basketball team
The girls basketball team was edged by Utica 54-53 on Jan. 13 and lost to Granville 52-45 on Jan. 16, extending its losing streak to six games.
Against Utica, the Hornets were outscored 25-9 at the free throw line and were outscored 21-9 in the third quarter
Licking Heights was 6-8 overall and 4-7 in the LCL before playing Lakewood on Jan. 18.
The Hornets had trouble containing Utica's Tory Minton, who scored 39 points while her teammates totaled 15. For Licking Heights, Dameras Whitlock scored 18 points and Skyler Ortiz added 13.
Whitlock had 13 points in a 52-44 loss to Northridge on Jan. 9. Ortiz and Crystal Jackson both scored eight.
Wrestlers strong in home invitational
Six members of the wrestling team placed in the Licking Heights Invitational on Jan. 10 and 11, as the Hornets finished fifth (111) of 15 teams behind champion Westerville North (304.5).
Sophomore Anthony Haist was runner-up at 106 pounds and 26-5 before the Hornets competed in the Robin Drumm Invitational on Jan. 18 at Heath.
Senior Mike Hopewell (220) and freshman Dereck Wilson (145) placed third. Hopewell was 20-8 and Wilson was 15-13.
Finishing fourth were sophomore Brandon Haist (120), senior A.J. Velasquez (heavyweight) and freshman L.A. Kelly (138). Brandon Haist was 21-7, Velasquez was 15-5 and Kelly was 14-9.
Licking Heights, which will play host to Marion-Franklin and Buckeye Valley on Thursday, Jan. 23, will not compete in the state team tournament.