By BRYAN GASKINS Kokomo Tribune
---- — RUSSIAVLLE — Western’s boys basketball team continued its hot play with a 61-57 victory over Sectional 20 rival West Lafayette on Saturday afternoon at Richard R. Rea Gymnasium.
The Panthers (11-4) have won three straight games and eight of their last nine.
“We had four games in the past seven days. We were tired,” Western forward Mo Townsend said. “To get this win against the toughest team we played this week is great.”
Western improved to 5-1 against Sectional 20 opponents, the best such record among the seven teams in the Class 3A field. Defending sectional champion West Lafayette (11-6 overall) is 2-1 against sectional opponents.
“It was definitely a big win,” Townsend said. “We came in, we were focused and we got a really big win.”
Townsend made a pair of key plays in the fourth quarter to help the Panthers take the win. First, he came up with a steal and took it to the other end where he scored a hoop-and-harm layup and free throw for a 55-52 lead with 3:17 remaining, the Panthers’ first advantage since midway through the third quarter.
“Mo anticipating there [for the steal] and finishing was big,” Western coach Bart Miller said.
Next, Townsend drilled a 3-pointer at 2:41 to give the Panthers a 58-54 lead. Townsend was 3 of 4 from 3-land in the game.
The Red Devils closed to within 58-57 at 2:08. After the Panthers’ Zach Shahan split a pair of free throws to make it 59-57 at 1:05, the Devils missed a potential tying shot and William Mbongo’s offensive rebound at :37 went for naught when he was called for traveling when he landed off balance. Still, the Devils had a chance to tie or take the lead when the Panthers’ Des Balentine missed both ends of a double bonus at :28.8.
The Devils ran the clock down to :05.6 before calling a timeout. Out of the timeout, Western’s Gabe Harp stole the inbounds pass and raced downcourt. The Devils fouled him at :01 and he sealed the win with a pair of free throws.
Miller praised Harp for his readiness.
“I know Gabe didn’t get as much playing time as he wanted, but he was in the game the whole time while he was on the bench,” Miller said. “He knew the situation, he knew the scouting report and he made the play to finish it off.”
Western was in control in the first half. The Panthers led by as many as 12 points en route to a 34-24 halftime advantage.
West Lafayette followed with a dominant third quarter. The Devils opened with a 9-0 spurt and surged to a 46-38 lead deep in the quarter before Townsend split a pair of free throws and Warden closed the quarter with a 3-pointer, bringing the Panthers within 46-42.
The Panthers tied it at 52-all midway through the final quarter when Balentine scored off a lob from Warden.
“Our guys played excellent in the first half. I think it might have been the best half of basketball we’ve played as far as offensively and defensively, both ends of the floor,” Miller said. “There in the third quarter, I wish I could explain what happened. We obviously fell asleep and give West Lafayette some credit for that, they made some adjustments and our guys were about a half-step slow the whole quarter. But, the guys came back strong in the fourth and finished off strong for a good, quality win.”
The Panthers survived poor free throw shooting. They were 8 of 15 in the second half and 13 of 23 for the game.
Townsend and Warden finished with 15 points apiece to lead the Panthers and Balentine had 11 points. Warden and Balentine had four rebounds and four assists apiece.
Mbongo led the Devils with game highs of 16 points and 10 boards. Nai Carlisle had 14 points.
Both teams were 20 of 42 from the field and both teams made eight 3-pointers. Western shot a much better percentage from 3-land, making 8 of 14 attempts. The Panthers had a 16-7 edge in points off turnovers and the Devils had a 12-6 edge in second-chance points.