By Matt Nestor
The Hononegah Indians had seen a seemingly-insurmountable 11-point lead cut down to 2 points with just more than a minute left in the game.
Coming out of a timeout, the Boylan Titans ratcheted up their defensive pressure, which meant the Indians and their highly-executed offense had Boylan right where they wanted them.
Senior Caleb Pinnow cut to the basket off a back pick from Andrew Tapley, where he was hit wide open for an easy layup to put the game away for Hononegah (19-5, 9-3) on their way to a 57-51 victory.
“It was wide open,” Pinnow said. “We were looking for (Carlos Hendrix) coming open because he’s our point guard, but I was just open and put it in.”
Things started off great for the Indians from the opening tip. Pinnow hit two early 3-point baskets and Coop Lewis added a couple of dunks to help Hononegah take a 4-point lead at the end of the first quarter.
“Our guys compete,” Hononegah Head Coach Mike Miller said of his senior forwards. “We were giving up 4 and 5 inches all the time, but our guys will stick their nose in, and they did a great job of combating that size.”
But in the second quarter, the Titans (17-4, 9-3) seemed to take control of the game. Senior Armani Flannigan scored 9 points and grabbed six rebounds to help Boylan go into the locker room with a 3-point lead.
The Titans also got a big lift from sophomore Drew Gaurke, who was making his first start. After a few early turnovers, Guarke hit a 3 and two layups off steals, keeping Tapley from Hononegah scoreless in the first half.
“He gave us some good energy, and he actually shut down Tapley,” Boylan Head Coach Steve Goers said of Guarke. “He only scored when someone else was guarding him.”
The Indians opened the third quarter with a 7-0 run to regain the lead. That was thanks in part to a swarming defense.
Led by Hendrix, who finished with a team-high 12 points, the Indians forced multiple Boylan turnovers. There was also a renewed focus on rebounding after the half for Hononegah.
“In the second half, we were able to stop them from going inside, and we rebounded a lot better,” Hendrix said. “We prepared for them in practice every day to be strong.”
Tapley was also able to break free in the third quarter. He hit a wide-open 3 and then was fouled scoring a layup off a steal on back-to-back plays to help the Indians extend the lead out to 7.
“We thought he wasn’t aggressive enough in the first half,” Miller said of his senior sharpshooter. “Some of the things he took to heart in the second half. Tapley is a great player, and he doesn’t get enough credit for his defense.”
Boylan made one last run in the fourth quarter. Flannigan took the game over again, getting to the free-throw line at will on his way to 18 points and 11 rebounds.
But after the Pinnow layup late, Boylan missed their next shot and Hononegah was able to put the game away at the free-throw line.
Tapley scored 14 the following night to help the Indians hold off the charging Belvidere North Blue Thunder by a score of 54-44.
The Titans rebounded from the loss and overcame a first-quarter deficit to win 81-61 over Harlem behind 21 points from Flannigan.
Hononegah’s win over Boylan does leave the teams tied for second in the conference. And with regional assignments around the corner, it leaves a tough decision to be made on who will get the 2 seed and a first-round bye come tournament time.
“The last two losses have been very bad for us,” Goers said of the losses to Hononegah and Auburn. “Especially for seeding in the regional. We just have to gut it up and play better.”