ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Hillsboro didn’t win Friday’s game against Nickerson by halftime, but an outstanding start took the Trojans a long way toward their eventual 58-47 victory over the Panthers at Nickerson.
The Trojans may have played their most effective half of the season to start the game. Great play on both ends of the court enabled them to post a 39-19 lead at intermission.
Starters Wade Weibert and Adam Scheele set the pace by each nailing a pair of free throws in the first minute of the game. When Macy Fadenrecht drained a 3-pointer at the 6:20 mark, the Trojans were off to a 7-0 lead.
At the first break, Hillsboro held an 18-9 advantage.
By halftime, the Trojans had made 12 of 20 shots from the floor (60 percent), including four 3-pointers. Their defense limited a scrappy Panther squad to 33 percent shooting (7-21).
Most impressive was that seven Trojans had scored by halftime, led by Weibert and Kyle Kroeker with nine points each.
But with Lucas Hamm held scoreless and in foul trouble, the Trojans got key contributions from unexpected sources. Fadenrecht and Tim Funk each scored six points while Peter Fast added four.
“We played outstanding,” coach Darrel Knoll said of the first half. “I thought defensively we got where we needed to be, our help was a much better rotation-the intensity all the way around was great.
“Offensively, we moved the ball well, took good shots-they did everything I asked.”
It would be a lot to ask a team to maintain that level of efficiency for an entire game, and the Trojans did not.
Hillsboro still made half of the shots they put up during the third quarter, but four turnovers kept them getting more than eight opportunities.
“In the second half, we came down and took quick shots, maybe forced some unfortunate ones,” Knoll said. “But the worst things were the careless turnovers during the third quarter. That’s the only way to describe them.”
Some credit goes to Nickerson, who seemed to accelerate their defensive intensity as the second half progressed.
Even so, a pair of free throws from Weibert lifted Hillsboro back to a 20-point lead at 45-25 with 4:31 left in the quarter.
But Nickerson responded with a 12-2 run that cut the lead in half before Fadenrecht hit a spinning layup in the final two seconds to give Hillsboro a 49-37 lead at the final break.
Nickerson pulled to as close as eight points at 53-45 on a basket by Chase Runyon with 2:40 to go.
Hillsboro kept the drama higher than it needed to be by making only five of 12 free throws down the stretch-including misses on the front end of two one-and-ones.
Fortunately, Hillsboro’s defense forced an increasingly desperate pack of Panthers into 0-for-7 shooting from the floor in the final 2:30.
“If we made some free throws down the stretch, it was still a 20-point game,” Knoll said. “We’ve got to learn that even if we’re up by 10 or 12 with a couple of minutes left, we’ve still got to make free throws.
“We’ve got some good shooters,” he added. “We just didn’t make them tonight and hopefully we’ll get that corrected.”
Weibert finished with a game-high 15 points with Kroeker close behind with 13 and Fadenrecht 10.
Hamm, who came averaging double-figure points, was hampered by foul trouble all night and did not score until he made a pair of free throws with 1:29 left in the game.
“It was nice that other guys stepped up,” Knoll said. “I was really happy with the way everybody played in the first half. Some guys are starting to step up and prove them can play. That’s what’s going to have to continue to happen.
Nickerson made only 19 off 55 shots, including a goose egg on 11 shots from behind the arc. Jordan McCue and Shawn Sullivan led a balanced attack with 12 points each while Bunyon added 11.
“I’m happy with tonight’s performance,” he added. “I wish we would have finished a little better, but it’s a win-and it’s a much better performance tonight than we had last game. I feel we’re headed in the right direction right now.”
The win boosted Hillsboro’s record to 6-1 overall and gave them a 1-0 start in the Mid-Central Activities Association. Nickerson dropped to 4-4 and 0-1.
Coming-With a game at home against Hesston on Tuesday, the Trojans will travel to Haven (3-5, 1-1) for their seventh road game in nine starts.
Hillsboro will play in the Trojan Classic next week. Tournament seeding and pairings are expected to be announced today (Wednesday), based on the results of Tuesday’s games. Check the Free Press Web site for the schedule