WINTERSVILLE- St. Clairsville's Dan Monteroso had his usual impressive performance in Tuesday's Buckeye 8 showdown with Indian Creek, scoring 40 points, collecting 10 rebounds and blocking four shots.
Two key fourth quarter hoops by Riley Carlton, however, allowed the Red Devils, Ohio's sixth-ranked Division II club, to break open a tight contest and earn a hard-fought 66-55 victory before a standing room only crowd.
A free throw make by Frank Kamarec gave the hosts a 51-50 lead early in the final frame. Carlton drove the lane for a deuce then buried a triple on the next St. Clairsville possession to launch a Red Devil scoring burst.
Monteroso followed with a pair off one of his patented spin moves and Adam Jeffries went coast to coast after a steal to put Kim Clifford's charges ahead to stay at 59-51.
Monteroso would score his team's last seven points as the Red Devils improved to 9-1 and stayed unbeaten in league play. Joe Dunlevy's Redskins fall to 9-4 and suffered their initial Buckeye 8 setback.
Going into the game, Dunlevy noted he wanted his Redskins to "go after" St. Clairsville on the offensive end. His charges did just that in the opening frame, canning seven of their 14 shots to seize an 18-11 lead.
Kamarec had eight of the 18 and Matt Furda six. They each scored after rebounding their own misses. Creek went ahead thanks to a 6-0 scoring burst, powered by a Kamarec triple and Furda's put back.
St. Clairsville scored six straight in the second (Monteroso getting four) to tie the contest at 23. Creek finished the half with five consecutive points (Kamarec scoring and hard-working Shane Winland converting the first of his three "and ones") and led 28-23 at the intermission.
Winland and Alex Young gave the Redskins their biggest lead of the evening (32-23) early in the third. St. C's Jerrid Marhefka and Creek's Jonathan exchanged deuces before the Red Devils caught fire.
Carlton tickled the twine from behind the arc to launch a 15-0 run. A Marhefka basket gave Clifford's crew its first lead since the opening period at 35-34.
Monteroso reeled off four straight and the Belmont Countians went up 40-34. Winland pulled the hosts close with his conventional three-point play and Kamarec hit this third triple of the evening to knot the score at 44 heading into the final stanza.
"Huge," that's how Clifford described Carlton's second half hoops.
"When Riley hit those two buckets that really helped us spread the floor," he added. "Now, they had to come out and chase a little more and they created cracks for Dan to penetrate."
Monteroso scored 26 of his 40 in the second half, converting on 11 of his 15 shooting tries.
Clifford noted, "We did turn it up a little bit" (in the second half).
"We're a veteran team and we challenged them at the half to guard their own guy a little harder," he added. "We got some steals that got us going and, of course, then Dan took over on offense. That was a pretty impressive performance he had in the second half."
The Devils, the OVAC Class 4A leaders, were a blazing 17 of 30 from the floor during the final two periods.
"We settled in a little with our shooting," Clifford explained. "There was a lot of bumping and grinding early. We got a little more comfortable in the second half with our shot selection and our shooting."
In attempting to explain his team's slow start, Clifford pointed out "the bottom line is to get more points than the other guys.
"Coaches try to evaluate their teams all the time," he continued. "Maybe we'll try something different. We played really strong in the second half. If we have to start off slow and play like we did tonight in the second half, we'll continue to do that."
Carlton finished with 10 points for the Red Devils, who will host Martins Ferry Friday. St. Clairsville had 23 rebounds and committed eight turnovers.
Winland paced Creek in scoring with 17. Kamarec added 16 and Young 14 (he also collared seven of his team's 26 rebounds). The Redskins were guilty of 17 ball-handling miscues.
Creek will be on the road Friday, visiting Buckeye Local.
INDIAN CREEK (55): Kamarec 6 1-2 16; Furda 3 0-1 6; Roar 0 0-0 0; Young 5 4-4 14; Haught 1 0-0 2; Durbin 0 0-0 0; Sullivan 0 0-0 0; Winland 7 3-6 17. TOTALS: 22 8-13 55. ST. CLAIRSVILLE (66): Marhefka 3 1-2 7; Jeffries 2 1-2 5; Giffin 0 0-0 0; Monteroso 17 4-7 40; Burghy 0 0-0 0; Carlton 4 0-0 10; Campbell 1 1-2 4. TOTALS: 27 7-12 66.
Three-point goals. St. Clairsville - Monteroso (2), Carlton (2), Campbell. Indian Creek - Kamarec (3).