Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 19 December 2006 18:00It may be too early to call the Hillsboro boys' 50-44 non-league victory over Nickerson on Friday a "must win." But after a 1-3 start to the season, it was an important one.
"It's a win we really needed, but I thought we played very well tonight against a very good team," coach Darrel Knoll said as his squad improved to 2-3 while Nickerson fell to 3-3.
The first half may have been one of the best all-around efforts so far for Hillsboro. The Trojans started slowly on the offensive end, and trailed 10-8 late in the first quarter.
But senior Darren Enns came off the bench to hit two free throws and a basket in the paint over a 30-second span to lift Hillsboro to a 13-10 lead at the first break.
A 3-pointer by Lucas Hamm in the early seconds of the second quarter sparked a 14-4 surge through period. Hamm scored 12 of those points in succession, including all three free throws when he was fouled on a shot behind the arc with 3:03 to go.
Meanwhile, the Trojan defense harassed the Panthers into 1-for-10 shooting as Hillsboro established a 27-14 lead by intermission.
"Offensively in the first half, we started to look like we're in the groove a little bit," Knoll said. "We threw the ball much better and took better shots. We missed some easy ones inside, but we're getting good shots, and that's what we want.
"There were a couple of things I would have liked to convert to have a little bigger lead, but I was very happy with it."
Back-to-back baskets by Zac Myers helped the Panthers close the gap to 35-27 after three quarters, but a nice baseline jumper by Troy Frick, followed 24 seconds by a traditional 3-point play by Aaron Stepanek, in the early minutes of the fourth quarter put the Trojans back on top by 13.
An 12-4 Nickerson run pulled the Panthers back to within five points with 2:45 to go, but Hillsboro made enough free throws-six of 12-down the stretch to nail down the win.
"In the second half we had a little tough time stopping them inside, but we did enough to win," Knoll said. "I thought we took care of the boards well and contested shots really well.
"The second half wasn't a bad half, we just had too many unforced errors. The thing we have to clean up is the unforced errors, more than anything else."
Hamm finished with a game-high 19 points. He and his teammates made 16 of 39 shots from the field (41 percent). The Panthers just under 40 percent (17-43).
"I thought for the most part we attacked the basket decently," Knoll said. "There was a stretch in the third quarter where we missed three or four consecutive shots inside and came up empty. When you get that good of a shot, you've got to make them.
"I thought we played to win and did a good job of finishing down the stretch. A win's a win. We're really happy with that."
Halstead-They're called free throws, but if a team doesn't cash them in, they can turn very costly in the end.
That was the hard lesson the Hillsboro boys learned during a heart-breaking 47-44 non-league loss Tuesday at Halstead.
In a tightly contested battle that went to the wire, missed free throws made all the difference.
For the game, the Trojans made only two of 11 attempts; in the second half they went 0-for-6; in the final quarter, when the outcome was on the line, they were 0-for-4.
Halstead's corresponding numbers: 13-for-16 for the game, 6-for-6 for the second half, 4-for-4 for the fourth quarter.
"We've got to start converting, that's the bottom line," coach Darrel Knoll said. "Just make a few free throws and we win the game outright without all this stuff at the end."
The "stuff at the end" included three missed field-goal attempts, three missed free-throws and a couple of questionable calls by the officials-all after the Trojans had taken a 44-43 lead on a steal and basket by Aaron Stepanek with 1:24 left to play.
It was Hillsboro's first lead since the final minute of the first quarter.
The Trojans played catch-up all evening. The Dragons, urged onward by enthusiastic home fans, jumped to an early 6-2 lead.
A basket by Tyler Kaufman tied the game at 10 with 1:48 to go, then Troy Frick followed with one of two free throws 36 seconds later to give Hillsboro an 11-10 advantage.
Halstead forged a 13-11 lead by the end of the quarter and a 30-24 spread by halftime.
Hillsboro lost some of its punch midway through the second quarter when leading scorer Lucas Hamm went to the bench with three fouls.
But Frick, who had missed the two previous games because of illness, stepped up with eight points in the first half.
The game went back and forth in the third period, with Hillsboro and Halstead trading points (nine and eight) and turnovers (seven and six) on the way to a 38-33 outcome by the time the buzzer sounded.
--either team could find the basket in the final period until Kaufman scored in the paint with 3:53 left in the game. Halstead came right back with a basket by its scoring ace, Austin Ratzlaff, and a 3-pointer by Corey Wells to take a 43-35 lead with 2:47 to go.
Frick then stepped up with two baskets over a 20-second span and Daniel Jost pulled the Trojans to within one with a 3-pointer from the left wing at the 1:43 mark. Stepanek followed with his steal seconds later to give the Trojans the lead.
But Hillsboro's scoring touch vanished at that point. Halstead, meanwhile, got a pair of free throws from both Tyler Ratzlaff and older brother Austin in the final 49 seconds to nail down the victory.
The Trojans had a chance to tie in the final seconds, but Jost's 3-point effort at the buzzer caromed off the rim.
Frick finished as Hillsboro's top scorer with 12 points. As a team, the Trojans shot a respectable 45 percent from the floor (20-44), but the Dragons were slightly better at 50 percent (16-32).
"We are trying really hard, but we're not finding ways to win," Knoll said. "Usually, we find ways to win, but we're just not doing that right now."
Coming-Hillsboro was scheduled for a game at Wichita Collegiate on Tuesday to end the pre-Christmas portion of its season. The Trojans will be back in action Jan. 5 when they host Hoisington.