An explosive second quarter by Malvern landed the Hornets a spot in the Division III District finals.
The Hornets defeated West Muskingum Tuesday night, but it was a game of runs as Malvern earned the 69-60 victory.
The Hornets started the game hot, finding themselves up 8-0 in the first quarter. West Muskingum responded with a 17-2 run to take a 17-10 lead into the second quarter.
The Hornets didn’t miss a beat in the second quarter though, at one point stringing together a 17-0 run in to start the quarter and outscoring the Tornadoes 24-7 in the second.
The run ignited when Malvern’s Rodney Smith stole the ball from West Muskingum and went the length of the court for an uncontested layup.
Mitchell Minor got in the action with a three-pointer followed by a bucket from J’Allen Barrino. Dylan Phillips hit back-to-back threes, putting Malvern ahead 25-17 after trailing 17-10 at the beginning of the quarter.
West Muskingum called their first timeout of the quarter to slow down the run, but Barrino scored right out of the break on a putback at the rim.
West Muskingum snapped the 17-0 run with back-to-back buckets. The Hornets led 34-24 at halftime.
Jared Witherow and Drake Hutchison got in on the action in the second quarter as well. They both finished the game with two points.
Phillips led Malvern’s scoring attack in the second quarter with 10 points. Barrino scored five in the quarter himself and recorded six boards for Malvern.
The Hornets controlled the remainder of the game, but Coach Dennis Tucci believes the tone was set in the second quarter.
“We had our way to start the second quarter and that was key, because all 10 of those points we led by (at halftime) were important,” Tucci said.
Malvern’s Phillips finished as the Hornets leading scorer with 21 points – 18 of which came in the first half. The MHS junior averages 9.5 points per game but turned the heat on Tuesday.
“We’re in districts. I just had to turn it up for our team,” Phillips said.
His hustle forced a jump ball in the first half and Phillips noted that flipped a switch.
“I got that jump ball. I think that was the whole momentum switch. And then it was just all uphill from there,” he said.
Coach Tucci was happy with Phillips’ performance and credited Malvern’s other juniors for the win as well.
“He’s a three-sport star and, and we’re glad we got him on our team,” Coach Tucci said. “The juniors do the load of the scoring for us and then our senior (Ja’son) just sets the stage defensively for everything we do.”
Minor caught fire in the second half, finishing with 18 points. He made four three-pointers in the second half of the game.
“I thought we did a great job of finding Mitch in transition, especially late in the fourth quarter,” Coach Tucci said. “It kind of gave us some more separation.”
J’Allen Barrino dropped 19 points for Malvern. He also pulled down 10 of the Hornets’ 27 rebounds.
Coach Tucci credited Barrino for much for the Hornets success in the district semifinal.
“When you get the ball in J’Allen’s hands a lot of good things are gonna happen,” he said.
West Muskingum’s Jack Porter finished as the Tornadoes leading scorer with 20 points.
Malvern (24-1) will face Sugarcreek Garaway Friday night in the district finals at New Philadelphia.
Coach Tucci said at the beginning of the year, he didn’t expect his ball team to be competing for a district title.
“It’s been a magical year. We’re better than we all thought we were going to be but we want to finish this thing,” he said. “We want to put icing on that cake and go play at OU next week. It won’t be easy.
The Hornets previously beat the Pirates 61-58 in overtime during the regular season. Tip-off is at 7p.m. Friday night.
If Malvern beats Garaway, they’ll advance to regionals at Ohio University next week. The Hornets haven’t been to regionals since 2017.