Highlands overcomes first-half shooting slump to beat Freeport

Friday, January 3, 2020 | 9:49 PM

It wasn’t Highlands’ cleanest game of the season, but the Golden Rams escaped from Freeport with a key section victory on Friday night.

Led by Luke Cochran’s 24-point performance — the senior guard also eclipsed 1,000 career points during the game — the Golden Rams (9-1, 2-0) shook off a poor-performance from behind the 3-point line in the first half and cruised to a 63-49 win.

“This wasn’t our best win, but we know what we’re capable of and we’ve shown what we’re capable of,” Cochran said. “We just need to get back at it and hopefully we keep on a roll. I mean, a win is a win. Whether you win by one or 100, you win the game.”

Despite Korry Myers making back-to-back 3-pointers on the first two possessions of the game, Highlands went cold in the first half and only made three of their first 12 3-point attempts. By the end of the first quarter, Freeport only trailed by one point.

The Yellowjackets (2-6, 0-2) played a tough defensive game, stayed patient on the offensive end and battled on the boards with the Golden Rams for a majority of the first half. It was ultimately what kept them in the game as they were paced by Matt Aulicino’s 20-point performance.

“We did the things we talked about in practice. We just wanted to make them work defensively,” Freeport coach Wayne Greiser said.

But the pace of the game could only hold for so long, and as the first half carried on, Highlands started to find its rhythm. Wahkeem Roman entered the game and gave the Rams another post presence alongside Johnny Crise.

With 1 minute, 30 seconds remaining in the half, a Cochran lay-up extended the lead to 10.

Although they had the advantage, Highlands coach Tyler Stoczynski thought his team could’ve played better in the early parts of the game.

“We didn’t communicate well and I thought we got bullied on the boards,” Stoczynski said. “As I’ve said, we have a lot of things to work on and we have a lot of growing and a lot of maturing to do.”

In the second half, the Golden Rams started to look a lot more like themselves. They held the Yellowjackets to just six points in the third quarter, while scoring 12 thanks to another pair of 3-pointers from Myers.

It was ultimately the Rams’ defensive effort in the second half that allowed them to pull away. Highlands started to implement a press and forced turnovers and it became too much for the Yellowjackets to overcome.

“They really turned up the defense in the second half and it really pressured us,” Greiser said. “That really made the extra pass hard for us and they got some easy layups from that.”

Thirty seconds into the fourth quarter, Cochran received a pass on the right wing from freshman guard Jimmy Kunst and the 6-foot-2 senior point guard buried his first 3-point shot of the game to earn the 1,000th point of his career.

Cochran admitted that reaching the career milestone was a pretty great feeling but heading into the section matchup, he was more worried about the win.

“The win is always more important than personal accolades,” Cochran said. “Points and all that stuff is great, but if we don’t get it done in between the lines in the time we have, then we’re not getting anything done. We’re just out here making noise for no reason.”

The Golden Rams travel to the Penn Hills JamFest on Saturday to take on McKeesport before traveling to section rival Knoch on Tuesday. The Yellowjackets will host Mt. Pleasant on Tuesday.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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