MONTICELLO — Western’s boys basketball team gutted out a difficult victory 57-56 over West Lafayette on Wednesday night in the opening round of the Class 3A Twin Lakes Sectional.
West Lafayette’s Caleb Smith wasn’t able to convert an instant shot off an inbounds play with 0:00.3 left, and the Panthers claimed a one-point victory.
Above and beyond the difficulty of dealing with a traditional rival in a sectional atmosphere, the Panthers had to muster the strength to win without leading scorer Des Balentine, who went down with a knee injury with 7:00 left in the fourth quarter and the game tied at 42-all.
“We’re a family here with the Western basketball program and we hate to see anybody get hurt, but when a guy has done as much for the program as Des has, it’s difficult for the guys,” Western coach Bart Miller said. “The emotion in the lockerroom, don’t get me wrong, guys were happy and proud that we won, but not a single one of them was cheering in there. They’re all concerned about their teammate.”
Western fell behind 48-44 quickly after the injury to Balentine as West Lafayette’s Trev Parker and Tyler Nycz hit back-to-back 3-pointers. Western’s Mo Townsend responded with a triple of his own after an offensive rebound by Evan Warden, but Nycz hit another 3-pointer to push the lead back out to four at 51-47.
Warden scored on a drive with 3:42 left to trim the lead to two points. Then, shortly after Balentine returned to the bench on crutches and in obvious pain, Western made a defensive adjustment to trap the Red Devil ballhandlers high in the halfcourt and Warden responded with a steal as a WL player tried to pass out of the trap. Twelve seconds later he hit a driving layup to tie the game at 51-all with 3:00 to play.