CLARION, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Micah Rupp isn’t a magician.
He has the sleight of hand to be one, however.
The junior on the Karns City boys basketball team is a defensive stopper. The Gremlins put the tall and lanky 6-foot-4 Rupp on the opponent’s best offensive weapon and watch him go to work.
(Above, with seven points, 10 rebounds, three blocked shots and four steals, Karns City’s Micah Rupp was named the Hager Paving Incorporated Player of the Game)
It’s usually a showstopper.
Rupp, with his lightning quick hands and equally quick feet, held Clarion’s leading scorer, Christian Simko, to eight points in a 43-31 win Tuesday night.
“He’s a game changer,” said Karns City coach Zach Kepple. “He defends so well. He’s tall and he has long arms and he changes everyone’s shot. Even when they think they are open, they’re really not. He also picks at the ball clean.”
Rupp scored seven points — two coming on a thunderous dunk in the second quarter that also drew him a technical foul — but he also had 10 rebounds, three blocked shots and four steals for the Gremlins in the win.
His main contribution, however, was holding Simko, who came in averaging more than 20 points per game, to fewer than 10.
“He did a really good job on Christian,” said Clarion coach Scott Fox. “His length and quick hands definitely affected us. He’s just so quick. He’s not slapping or anything. It’s just a quick jab.”
He was dagger to Clarion’s heart for most of the night.
So was another strong defensive effort from its opponent.
Clarion (6-5) scored more than 80 points in a game twice last week, but the Bobcats have stumbled a bit in the last two games, falling 46-37 to Punxsutawney Saturday and scoring just 31 points Tuesday against Karns City.
Karns City (9-1) used an 18-0 run in the second quarter to take a 28-9 lead and led 30-13 at the half.
Luke Cramer was also a huge factor for the Gremlins. He scored 18 of his game-high 20 points in the first two quarters. He hit four 3-pointers.
Cramer has the build of a banger in the paint, but has the shooting touch of a guard on the perimeter.
“Cramer is a guy that allows us to work with mismatches a little bit here and there,” Kepple said. “He’s a good shooter. He can shoot off the dribble. If you put a small guy on him, he can post you up and he does a good job finishing around the rim. He’s a threat that’s hard for opponents to deal with.”
Clarion, though, began slowly chipping away at the Gremlin lead in the second half.
The Bobcats trimmed the deficit to seven early in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t get any closer.
Karns City scored just 13 points in the second half.
“If we came out with the intensity we did in the second half at the beginning of the game, maybe it’s different,” Fox said. “We’re trying to build on the second half now and hopefully let that first half go because in the second half we played a lot better.”
Clarion had been pressing teams, but opted for a 3-2 zone instead against Karns City.
“The press — we’ve been off and on with it,” Fox said. “We wanted to stick with our 3-2 and try not to get beat down the court because I know they have some speed, and even though they don’t like to run, they take their opportunities.”
What hurt Clarion the most was rebounding.
Karns City was dominant on the glass. The Bobcats didn’t get their first offensive board until late in the first half.
“They killed us on the boards,” Fox said.
Luke Garing had a double-double for Karns City with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“That’s a priority of ours,” Kepple said. “We always want to limit second chances.”
Karns City was without sophomore point guard Taite Beighley. Hobie Bartoe, another sophomore, filled in well for Beighley.
“It’s the world we live in now. People get sick and whatnot, so (Beighley) wasn’t with us tonight,” Kepple said. “I thought Hobie did a great job jumping in and handling the ball. Clarion pressured him a ton, and he may have had a turnover or two, but he handled himself well. I think he’s going to get a little more time going forward because he does bring a different dynamic. He brings a lot of intensity.”
So does Rupp, who smiled and shrugged when asked how his defensive skills developed.
“It’s basically just reflexes, I guess,” Rupp said. “I practice it, poking the ball away. It feels good holding down top players because all the players I guard get a lot of hype. So when I shut them down, it feel pretty good.”