Fairfield's Sam Buddelmeyer led all scorers with 32 points in the Lions' win vs. Highland County rival Whiteoak, Friday at FHS. Pictured for WHS is Deavin Cumberland. (HCP Photos/Stephen Forsha)
Fairfield's Sam Buddelmeyer led all scorers with 32 points in the Lions' win vs. Highland County rival Whiteoak, Friday at FHS. Pictured for WHS is Deavin Cumberland. (HCP Photos/Stephen Forsha)
LEESBURG — In the December meeting between the Fairfield Lions and Whiteoak Wildcats, the difference of the game was Whiteoak’s third frame where they took control of the game for the win. Fast-forward to Friday night, and this time it was a second-half surge by the host Lions, who took control of the game and won Round 2 of the Highland County rivalry, 78-65.

As well as the first half went for both the Lions and Wildcats – where Whiteoak led 19-18 after one, followed by both teams scoring 12 points in the second for a Wildcat halftime lead of 31-30 – the complexion of the game switched gears in favor of the host Lions at Grandle Gymnasium in the second half.

“The biggest thing we talked about at halftime was playing under control,” Fairfield head coach Josh Howland said. “We felt like man-to-man, we’re better than each of those guys.

“We talked about slowing things down and not forcing in transition. We’re going to slow it down, get at least one reversal, try to get two if we can and then attack the basket instead of coming in and just trying to score on the run each time.”

The Lions (3-4, 5-6) outscored their county counterpart Whiteoak, 24-16. That was followed by the Lions adding another 24-point total to their side of the scoreboard, while the Wildcats scored 18 points in the fourth.

Fairfield’s win was led by the play of Sam Buddelmeyer, who was on fire from the field on Friday, finishing with 32 points, including 13 two-point baskets and a 6-of-9 night from the free-throw line. Breaking down the play of Buddelmeyer, he scored eight points in the first, followed by six points in the second, six more points in the third and 12 points in the fourth to cap off his scoring.

“Sam struggled against Whiteoak the last few times, but tonight he made up for all of it,” Howland said. “He poured it on them.”

In all, the Lions had four players scoring in double figures with Bryson Simmons with 15 points, James Bentley scoring 14 points and Wyatt Willey with 12 points.

The Wildcats (2-4, 5-7) had three players with at least 10 points as Ryan Roberts and Zach Rand finished with 13 points each, while Deavin Cumberland tallied 10 points.

The third frame was back-and-forth early on with nine lead changes from the start of the frame until there was 3:43 remaining on the scoreboard. When the Lions took a 41-39 lead, FHS from that point until the end of the frame outscored the Wildcats, 13-6 for the 54-17 lead.

In the early part of the third, Willey scored two points in the paint, followed by two points by Roberts. Next, the Lions took the lead with a jumper by Buddelmeyer, and from there the score continued to switch back and forth with Whiteoak gaining two points by Brayden Yeager, followed by two points by Buddelmeyer. Next, the Wildcats took back the lead with Roberts scoring a field goal off a jumper for a 37-36 lead.

That shot was answered with a jumper from the corner by Bentley. Next came a jumper from Whiteoak’s Hunter Ruckel at the 4:04 mark of the fourth, but Bentley gave the Wildcats the lead for good off a three-point play with 3:43 on the clock for the 41-39 advantage.

From there, Fairfield added to their lead with a put-back bucket by Simmons, and following a timeout, Ruckel scored two points for the Wildcats to get WHS back to within two points of the FHS lead. Ruckel finished the game with six points.

“Willey guarded Ruckel, and he did an excellent job, holding him to six points,” Howland said. “Hunter Ruckel is a heck of a ballplayer, and to hold him to six points, that’s doing something.

“I’m not saying we didn’t make mistakes, because we did, but everybody else won our one-on-one battles. One thing that helped us out a lot was Bryson Simmons came back, his first game back after having a broken rib. I thought he was a huge offensive and defensive lift, going in the right place at the right time.”

Bentley battled strong following Ruckel’s points with three straight points for a 46-41 Fairfield advantage. Whiteoak’s Nick Bailey answered with a layup, only to see Willey sink a 3-pointer, then followed that later on with a free-throw conversion for a 50-43 lead.

The Lions continued what was a 6-0 run with a jumper from Buddelmeyer for a 52-43 advantage. Whiteoak came back with two points by Roberts, but the Lions had a layup late in the quarter by Simmons for a 54-47 lead after three frames.

In the fourth frame, WHS got to within seven points of FHS at the 7:11 mark and later eight points at the 5:17 mark, but they didn’t get closer than that.

For the Lions in the fourth, their 24 points came off Buddelmeyer’s 12 points, along with six points by Willey, five points by Simmons and one point by Conner Priest.

Whiteoak’s fourth-quarter scoring came from five points by Cumberland, five points by Roberts, four points from Atlee Carr and four points from Yeager.

In the first half, Whiteoak scored the first points of the game with two points by Ruckel off a jumper, but from there the Lions went on a 7-0 run with a shot made by Buddelmeyer, a free throw from Simmons, two points by Austin Setty and maybe the most exciting basket of the game when Buddelmeyer sank a layup in transition, off a behind-the-back pass by Simmons for the assist, to make it a 9-2 lead with 4:52 left in the first frame.

From there, Rand broke the run with two free throws, but those were answered off two free-throw makes by Setty to increase the Lions’ lead to 11-4. WHS began their first-quarter comeback with a layup by Rand, but the Lions came back with a layup from Bentley.

Following those points, Bailey sank a 3-pointer for the Wildcats at the 2:45 mark, and again the Lions were there with a 3-pointer by Simmons with 2:22 on the clock for a 16-9 score.

Whiteoak wasn’t finished in the first with another 3-pointer with 2:11 left in the quarter from Rand as WHS ended the first frame with seven straight points, as Bailey scored the final four points of the first for a 19-18 lead.

Both teams scored 12 points in the second, with Whiteoak’s scoring in the quarter coming from five points by Cumberland (including a 3-pointer), with two points each from Roberts, Carr and Yeager, along with one point by Rand.

Fairfield’s 12 points in the second were from six points by Buddelmeyer, four points off two baskets by Bentley and two points from Simmons.

The game saw the Lions total 25 two-point baskets, three 3-pointers and they were 19-of-28 from the free-throw line. Whiteoak totaled 22 two-point baskets, four 3-pointers and they were 9-of-20 with their free-throw shooting.