When the Thomas Worthington High School boys basketball team fell behind host Worthington Kilbourne by 12 points late in the first quarter Jan. 18, memories of last year's 42-point loss at Kilbourne flashed through Thomas coach Bob Miller's mind.
Miller was encouraged and relieved to see the Cardinals outscore the Wolves 25-3 in the third quarter while rallying for a 56-45 victory.
"When we went down 16-4, last year's game definitely crossed my mind and I thought: 'Oh no, this can't be happening again,'" Miller said. "We could have crawled in a hole at that point, but Tyrrell Stewart and Dan Crease showed great senior leadership by talking to our guys on the floor to settle our team down. We whittled away at our deficit and pulled within (25-21) by halftime and then we played excellent basketball in the third quarter."
Not only did the win earn the Cardinals community bragging rights and give them a 12-3 lead in the all-time series -- they also defeated Kilbourne 50-32 on Dec. 14 -- it provided some needed momentum after they had lost to Upper Arlington 36-30 in an OCC-Central Division contest Jan. 17.
Thomas was 9-5 overall and 4-3 in the OCC-Central before playing its league rematch against UA on Jan. 21, while Kilbourne is 9-7 overall and 5-3 in the OCC-Capital.
"This win means a lot to us because we're such big rivals and it's tough to win at Kilbourne," Thomas sophomore point guard Jaret Gerber said. "Coming off our loss to Upper Arlington, this gives us some confidence and momentum back. This is our No. 1 win of the season, while beating Kilbourne at home was our second-biggest win."
The Cardinals made nine of 14 field-goal attempts in the third quarter, including all four shots from 3-point range.
After Gerber made a 3-pointer from 3 feet behind the arc to put Thomas ahead 34-28 with 4 minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the third, Yemi Sholesi converted a three-point play and Gerber hit another 3-pointer.
Nick Veal then made back-to-back 3s to extend the Cardinals' lead to 46-28 by the end of the quarter.
"We've been inconsistent with our 3-point shooting at times, so we wanted to attack and get to the foul line as much as possible," Miller said. "But when your players are shooting that well from the outside, how can you tell them not to keep shooting?"
Eight Cardinals scored, with Gerber (14 points), Sholesi (12) and Stewart (8) leading the way.
"We've been up and down this season, but I'm hoping that the way we played (at Kilbourne) will carry over into our next game," Gerber said. "We're a better team when we get a lot of people involved like we did in this game."
Junior wing player Griffin Dahn said the Wolves were disappointed with their second-half effort on defense.
"We came out with a lot of energy and when they tied us, our shoulders dropped, we let their guys get open and they hit a bunch of 3-pointers on us," Dahn said. "We've played great defense all season, but we didn't in the second half of this game. We also took a lot of tough shots and missed them."
Seth Hill scored 17 points and Mike Chambers added 15 to lead the Wolves.
After a 51-47 OCC-Capital victory at New Albany on Jan. 14, the Wolves lost a home league game to Delaware 47-44 on Jan. 17.
Hill scored 17 points, Chambers had 14 and Dahn added 10 against New Albany, while Hill scored 21 and Isaiah Young had 13 against Delaware.
"This (Thomas) game ended a stretch where we played six games in (11) days and it will be nice to get a chance to rest and get more practices in," Kilbourne coach Tom Souder said. "I'm not sure how much that had to do with our game (against Thomas) though, because they defended us really well and they're a really good team."
The Wolves hope to bounce back in a league game Friday, Jan. 24, at Mount Vernon. Kilbourne beat Mount Vernon 48-45 on Dec. 13.
"It's always tough to win at 'The Hive,'" Souder said. "They lull you to sleep with that hour-long bus ride and then you walk in there and it's a packed house. It's a mental thing where we'll need to be ready to play well in their friendly confines."