WILMOT — The Indian Trail and Wilmot boys basketball teams played two clearly different halves Tuesday night.
Indian Trail owned the first, Wilmot the second.
And in the end, that strong effort in the opening 18 minutes was just enough to push the Hawks over the top.
Indian Trail raced out to a 21-point halftime lead before the Panthers came storming back to cut the deficit to seven with 4 minutes left, but the Hawks held on for an 88-81 non-conference victory.
Trailing by 16 points with 5:34 left in the game, Wilmot put together a furious 9-0 rally that began and ended on baskets by Hunter Lindsay, the first a 3-pointer from the side and the last a short jumper with 4:03 left.
“Give our guys a lot of credit,” Wilmot coach Jake Erbentraut said. “We felt good at the end (of the game). We knew that we dug ourselves a hole in the first half, and that’s really hard to do. The guys didn’t give up. They decided to just go out there and just play.”
The game never got any closer than that, as Indian Trail quickly pushed the lead back to 11 points on an inside basket by Anthony Bernero (14 points) and two free throws by Kyle Andrews (13 points).
With just 32 seconds left, the Panthers had one last gasp at a comeback when Kevin Sandman (17 points) knocked down a 3-pointer off an assist by Zack Watson (10 points) to cut the lead again to six at 87-81.
Andrews hit one of two free throws the next time down the floor to account for the final score.
“We turned the ball over way too much in the second half,” Indian Trail coach Al Anderson said. “We needed to just calm down a little bit, space the floor properly and move the basketball. Any time someone is chasing you, you have to make them the aggressor, hold onto the basketball strong and hopefully knock down some shots at the line.
“We knocked down enough, but we need to be a little bit better than that, even, at the line.”
Wilmot (0-1) held its final lead of the night at 24-23 with 7:33 left in the opening half on a 3-pointer by London Glass (31 points) after an Indian Trail turnover before the Hawks took control until the intermission.
Indian Trail ripped off 14 straight points to build a 13-point lead at 37-24, as four different players scored during the run.
Moving the ball is a big key to the Hawks’ success, Anderson said.
“We were sharing the ball, really moving the ball,” he said. “A lot of times in practice, we’re running drills with three dribbles or less, unless you’re exploding to the hole. I thought toward the end of the half, we started to do that.
“... We have a lot of guys who can shoot it on this team, kind of like Wilmot. They have a lot of guys who can shoot it. We just have to trust each other and good things will happen.”
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And from Erbentraut’s perspective, not only did Indian Trail do well at distributing the basketball, their athleticism, led by junior point guard Ezra Stargell (11 points), was difficult to defend all night.
“When we made a mistake, they found it,” Erbentraut said. “Their quickness at guard is really, really good. They have guys who are savvy. They’re experienced, too. It was some tough matchups.”
The Hawks ended the half with two more scoring runs, including a 7-0 rally in the final 1:12 to build the 21-point lead at the intermission. Andrews converted a three-point play then added a basket off a fast break.
Wilmot was a step behind defensively for most of the first half, Erbentraut said.
“Our defense is our offense,” he said. “If we’re not producing on defense, we’re in trouble. I thought in that first half, we just got very complacent defensively and couldn’t generate anything offensively.”
Jeremiah Suber led Indian Trail with 16 points, while Spencer Pocius added 13. Mason Cummings chipped in with 11 points for the Panthers.
After two games and two victories, Anderson is pleased with the different skill sets he can put together on the floor.
“We have a nice mix,” he said. “We’re not super big. It would be nice to have a 6-5, 6-6, but I never care about that, as long as we have (that) athleticism. ... It’s a nice mix between guards, shooters and bigs. They’ve played a lot of ball the last nine months. It’s a work in progress still, but it’s off to a nice start.”