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ST. JOSEPH — Don’t look now.
But the Fisher boys basketball team is on a winning streak.
All of two games.
With the struggles the Bunnies endured the first month of the season, however, they could at least head into Christmas and the new year with a surge of positivity. Even if some people might scoff at a two-game winning streak.
Fisher picked up its second straight win by rallying past Armstrong-Potomac 64-57 on Friday afternoon in the seventh-place game of the 24th annual Leader Classic at St. Joseph-Ogden.
“When we need to, we can play the best defense (in the area),” Fisher senior guard Nick Thomas said. “We knew we had to, and we just jumped on it.”
Strong defensive pressure helped the Bunnies (2-13) enjoy a win while an inability to hold onto the ball made sure the Trojans (0-13) would not come away with a victory until at least January.
“We’re definitely not an 0-13 team,” A-P junior center Shawn Johnson said. “A lot of people think we are, but come January, we’ll be right there. We are making strides, coming together as a team and playing some good ball. The scoreboard might not say it, but we’re getting there.”
Four lead changes ensued in the first half, but A-P appeared firmly in control.
Until less than four minutes remained in the third quarter.
After a layup by Johnson (game-high 23 points, 12 rebounds), the Trojans led 43-30 with 4:02 left in the third quarter.
By the time the quarter ended, A-P’s lead was whittled to 45-41 thanks to a game-changing 11-2 run sparked by Fisher senior guard Luke Harvey (eight points) and junior guard Brody Farrar.
After an offensive rebound putback by Fisher senior forward Hans Carmien (12 points, six rebounds, five steals) made it 43-32, Harvey and Farrar went to work making life miserable for A-P’s backcourt.
“Brody’s one of the best defensive players on the team,” Harvey said. “It was good to have him in the game in situations like that.”
Harvey and Farrar helped the Bunnies force A-P into five turnovers in the final two minutes to make Fisher’s deficit miniscule heading into the fourth quarter.
“I was just trying to get the team back in the game,” said Farrar, who made two steals and converted those steals into layups for his four points in the game during the run. “I just wanted to make some plays and get us back into it. I could just run up, get the pass and go for a layup. It really got us more into the game and kept us intense the rest of the game.”
Harvey’s hustle and shooting ability paid off, too. He drained a 3-pointer from the left wing with 2:40 left that made it 43-35 before he corralled an offensive rebound after he missed a 3-pointer and put it back in to trim Fisher’s deficit to 43-39 with 1:10 remaining in the quarter.
“Those are big plays,” Fisher head coach Ron Ragle said. “When you talk about doing the little things, that’s what separates you from getting a win and losing a game 90 percent of the time. That’s what we’ve talked about all season, and we’re starting to do it now. We’re starting to play with a little more confidence, and guys are starting to actually do it now.”
Even with Harvey and Farrar’s efforts, the Bunnies still trailed at the start of the fourth quarter.
Not for long.
A 12-foot jumper by junior guard Kyle Williams gave Fisher a 48-47 lead with 5:25 left, its first advantage since leading 18-16 midway through the second quarter.
A layup by A-P senior guard Wade Rogers (11 points) cut Fisher’s led to 52-51 with 4:05 left, but A-P never got closer the rest of the game.
The Trojans struggled against Fisher’s fullcourt press and had 24 turnovers, 16 in the second half.
“Ultimately, that fullcourt pressure just changed the game,” A-P head coach Mike Twidwell said. “We went over and over the right way to break that press. We just didn’t execute it. It’s that whole thing of needing to turn that knowledge into habit. They’ve got the knowledge, but they haven’t turned it into habit yet.”
Aside from Williams scoring eight of his 13 points in the fourth quarter, Thomas also played a large offensive role in the final eight minutes.
He scored all six of his points in the quarter, all on drives or plays at the rim.
It’s an area Thomas has had difficulty with at times this season, but that wasn’t the case on Friday.
“I just usually think about them way too much,” Thomas said. “The less I think about it, the better I am.”
Ragle was glad to see the scrappy Thomas — who is in more for his defensive prowess — contribute with his scoring.
“Nick Thomas has got that ability,” Ragle said. “He’s not always shown it, but I’ve seen it in practice.”
Senior forward Tate Estes led Fisher with a team-high 15 points and 11 rebounds, with 11 of those points and seven of those rebounds in the first half.
Sophomore guard Dentler Loschen (14 points) helped A-P build a double-digit lead late in the first half when he scored nine points during a 10-4 spurt by the Trojans that put A-P ahead 32-22 with 36 seconds left in the first half after Loschen drained one of his two 3-pointers.
Johnson also was a main reason why A-P led 32-26 at halftime by nearly recording a double-double in the first half with eight points and eight rebounds.
“I saw some openings,” Johnson said. “They were doing a lot of what we were doing, which was watching the ball, so I took advantage of that and got some boards.”
Twidwell came away pleased with Johnson’s play and hopes he can continue to play like that on a consistent basis the second half of the season.
“That’s the Shawn I’ve seen so many times at open gyms and practices,” Twidwell said. “Just watching him on the blocks, he was really working and kept the ball high on his putbacks. He just really had energy all the way around. This was the first real game where we’ve actually seen what he can do in the post against some good defenders. I was real happy with that. He was hitting the boards so hard he created a lot of offense for himself.”
Fisher shot 26-of-57 (46 percent) from the field and 3-of-11 (27 percent) from 3-point range. The Bunnies only made 9-of-18 (50 percent) from the foul line, but Estes and Harvey went a combined 4-of-4 in the final 44.6 seconds to seal the win.
Fisher turned the ball over 14 times, but only on five occasions in the second half. A-P, meanwhile shot 55 percent (22-of-40) from the field, including 42 percent (5-of-12) from 3-point range, but the turnover problems did not help matters for the Trojans, who made 8-of-13 (62 percent) at the foul line.
While one of the struggling teams was guaranteed to get a win on Friday before they both return to the court on Friday, Jan. 4, it was the Bunnies who went into the holidays with a much warmer feeling than the Trojans.
“We played a lot better defense,” Harvey said. “We pressured the ball up a lot more up top. We were reaching for the ball in the first half instead of settling them down and keeping calm. Coach has been preaching that all season, and we didn’t really do that until this week. That explains why we’re winning. It feels good because we haven’t played well and now we’ve got a little bit of a winning streak.”
Notes: Fisher’s first game of the new year is at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 4 at Heart of Illinois Conference foe Ridgeview. A-P returns to Vermilion Valley Conference play at the same time on Jan. 4 at Hoopeston Area.