BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — RUSSIAVILLE — In a game bookended by clutch shooting at the front end and back end, Western’s hot start trumped Maconaquah’s hot finish Tuesday night in the rivals’ Mid-Indiana Conference boys basketball game.
Western took a 5-4 lead in the opening minutes off Mo Townsend’s first 3-pointer of the night and never trailed or was tied again in a 74-67 victory in the Panthers’ south gym.
Western (9-4, 4-1 MIC) hit seven 3-pointers in the opening half, four off the hot hand of Townsend, who was a perfect 5 for 5 from the field in the opening half. Evan Warden also hit two triples in the first quarter and Austin Weaver hit one in the second quarter, followed by a turn-around jumper. Townsend’s last 3 of the game made the score 31-17 Western with 5:38 left before halftime.
“Great shooting night for our guys,” Western coach Bart Miller said. “Des [Balentine] does a great job, and Evan also does a great job. They penetrate in there, if [Maconaquah defenders] collapse in, they know to kick out and our guys are ready to catch and shoot when their defender goes in. When you take good shots, our guys can knock those down, and shot selection was big in our win.”
Maconaquah (4-9, 0-5 MIC) wasn’t able to trim the lead down to single digits until the final minute of the first half, getting the lead down to nine twice on baskets by K.J. Walton to trail at halftime 40-31.
“Obviously, they’re good shooters, but they’re also very athletic,” Mac coach Andy Steele said. “Starting in man [defense] hasn’t really worked for us this year so we tried to do something different and mix it up throughout the game. I thought for the most part, especially in the first half, we got out on their shooters, they just made them.”
Balentine helped keep Western ahead in the second half, scoring 19 of his game-high 28 points in the third and fourth quarters.
Maconaquah pecked away at the lead all second half, getting continued production from freshman center Wyatt Hughes along with two big treys from Adam Harts in the third quarter (the second a buzzer beater from well beyond halfcourt), and two more treys in the third from Trevor Hagan.
Back-to-back bombs from Hagan trimmed the Western lead to 69-65 with 50 seconds left, then a deuce from Hagan made it a one-possession game at 70-67 with 26 seconds left. But Townsend hit two free throws three seconds later to finally quell Maconaquah’s threat.
“I think we caught fire and we got really aggressive in the second half, and realized that we could played with these guys,” Steele said. “Unfortunately we just had too big a hole to get out of.”
While Maconaquah got hot in the second half, Western made sure the fire burned slowly by changing defenses in the final 5:30, forcing Maconaquah to take time in search of good shots on each possession.
“We mixed up defenses a little bit more that last five minutes to try and keep them off balance and force them to use a little more clock,” Miller said. “We mixed it up between a man, a zone, a trap, and give our guys credit for executing the defense we were in.”
Townsend finished with 16 points, Warden 14 and Weaver 11 for Western, which got big minutes off the bench as well when three of Western’s starters were in foul trouble.
“I thought our bench played extremely well with Devon Eaker, James Myers, Zac Simpson and Gabe Harp,” Miller said. “We had guys step up when we needed them.”
Hughes led Mac with 17 points and 16 rebounds. Walton added 15 points and 11 rebounds. Harts had 16 points and Hagan 14.