Bryce Miller

Columbus' Bryce Miller (right) attempts a floater in traffic during the first half of the Cardinals' 69-62 loss to Wisconsin Heights on Thursday night in a Capitol Conference crossover game played at Columbus High School.

COLUMBUS — Their next phone bill is going to be rather high. But after racking up long-distance charge after long-distance charge over the final 14-plus minutes Thursday night vs. Wisconsin Heights, members of Columbus’ boys basketball team couldn’t get anyone to pick up when it mattered most.

The Cardinals connected on seven 3-pointers after halftime to claw back from a 16-point deficit and get within one, then a lid covered the basket for the final 3-plus minutes and they couldn’t get over the hump, suffering a 69-62 loss to the Vanguards in a Capitol Conference crossover game.

“We’ve got some kids who can score, and some kids who can shoot,” Cards’ head coach Ben Schambow said of the second-half rally, which was spearheaded by Trent Casper’s nine points (two 3s) but also aided by eight points from Adam Zahn (two 3s), seven from Ben Emler (one 3), and six from Bryce Miller (two 3s).

The big comeback just wasn’t quite enough, though, thanks to porous defense in the first half.

“We knew what their strength was, and defensively we didn’t play well enough to give them tougher looks,” Schambow said. “We knew what we needed to do to stop them, the effort in the first half was not there to do it.

“We dug ourselves a hole and came out in the second half and played better — we made some shots and we didn’t give them as many open looks from 3 as we did in the first half — but it was too late. They’re a really good team.”

The biggest trouble for Columbus (5-4) defensively was not forcing the issue — instead letting Heights (6-1) create too many good chances.

“We didn’t take away the penetration, and that gave them the opportunity to make us help,” Schambow said. “And when you help, you leave open shooters. They beat us from 3.”

Yes, the Vanguards certainly did, connecting seven times from beyond the arc in the first half while building a 41-31 halftime lead.

Columbus did turn the tables in the second half — both teams finished with nine 3s in the contest — but after rallying from a 47-31 deficit and getting within 63-62 on Casper’s 3 from the left wing with 3 minutes, 22 seconds remaining, momentum stalled and the Cards came up empty the rest of the way.

They just couldn’t quite erase what was a lackluster first 18 minutes.

“It’s not like they didn’t want to win,” Schambow said of his team’s first-half effort. “It’s just sometimes we come out a little too relaxed, and we’ve done that a few times this year.

“When you do that against good teams, they’re going to beat you.”

Indeed. But the silver lining, the Cards hope, is that not bringing it for all 36 minutes will serve as a valuable lesson moving forward.

“It’s just a game that we have to learn from and understand that in the second half of the season we’re going to be playing all good teams,” Schambow said. “Our second half (tonight) has to be both halves (of the game).”

WISCONSIN HEIGHTS 69, COLUMBUS 62

Heights 41 28 — 69

Columbus 31 31 — 62

HEIGHTS (69) — Austin Wolfe 16, Carson Hughes 4, Shravan Parman 7, Zachary Watkins 5, Grady Geishirt 19, Clayton Caminiti 9, Daniel Geishirt 8, Joan Ayala-Carpintero 1. TOTALS (FGM FTM-FTA PTS): 23 14-18 69.

COLUMBUS (62) — Trey Hensler 1, Adam Zahn 17, Bryce Miller 11, Trent Casper 22, Andy Vujnovich 2, Ben Emler 9. TOTALS (FGM FTM-FTA PTS): 22 9-11 62.

3-pointers: Heights 9 (Austin Wolfe 4, Shravan Parman 1, Zachary Watkins 1, Grady Geishirt 2, Clayton Caminiti 1), Columbus 9 (Adam Zahn 3, Bryce Miller 2, Trent Casper 3, Ben Emler 1). Total fouls: Heights 13, Columbus 15. Fouled out: None.

Follow Dan on Twitter @Danny_Larson_8.