MADISON TOWNSHIP — T.J. Pugh got better as the night progressed Friday at Madison Middle School.
Shelby’s 6-foot-6 senior swingman and one of the area’s top returners, Pugh scored 26 points as the Whippets pulled away in the second half for a 70-49 win over the Rams on opening night.
Madison trailed 36-33 midway through the third quarter when Pugh took matters into his own hands. He hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final three minutes of the third as Shelby closed the quarter on a 14-5 run to take a 50-38 advantage to the fourth. He then scored Shelby’s first five points of the fourth to make it 55-39 with 6:27 remaining and the Whippets sailed from there.
“T.J. Pugh took over,” Madison coach Tim Mergel said. “Nothing they did was any different. We outplayed them in the first half. We outplayed them in the second half for the most part. They had the best player on the floor.”
Pugh managed just two points in the first quarter as Madison took a 17-16 lead. He had nine quiet points in the half, scoring four from the free throw line in the second.
“He did not look healthy in the first half. He ate a pretzel at halftime and it must have helped a little bit,” Shelby coach Nathon Loney said. “He needs to be much better than that, especially if you’re going to be the best player in the area.”
Madison trailing 32-29 at the break and 39-36 with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter, but suffered through a two-plus minute scoring drought. The Rams never recovered.
“I think we went like seven possessions that were empty,” Mergel said.
Only four players scored for Madison, but all four reached double figures. Levi Zehner and Luke Pruitt each had 13, while Isaac Brooks had 12 and Jayden Jeffries added 11.
“It’s a credit to our kids. We’re an unselfish group. In practice we’re almost too unselfish,” Mergel said. “You look at Brooks … that kid was good. Jayden Jeffries was good. Zehner played tough. Pruitt played tough.
“I couldn’t ask any more out of our guys. The score I don’t think reflects the effort we put in.”
Cody Lantz backed Pugh with 12 points. Brazure Roberts scored 11.
“The biggest thing was we started playing faster offensively (in the second half),” Loney said. “We got the looks we wanted and we made the extra passes.”
Shelby outscored Madison 20-11 in the fourth quarter.
“We can’t play slow. We’ve got to continue to play fast and push the pace,” Loney said. “I’m still not happy with our offensive pace right now.
“But it’s like I told them, as bad as we played tonight and still score 70, you’ve got to be a little happy.”