When Western’s boys basketball team smelled blood on Friday night, the Panthers’ predatory instincts took over.
Up 27-24 at halftime against Northwestern in the second semifinal of the Howard County Tournament at Taylor, the Panthers pounced on a sputtering Purple Tiger squad in the third quarter. After a Northwestern free throw, the Panthers took over with a 16-2 run that pushed their lead up to 43-27.
Western’s lead never dipped below 13 points as the Panthers maintained control for a 67-54 victory. It’s Western’s 10th straight win over Northwestern. Western will face Taylor tonight in the championship game.
“I want to give the guys a lot of credit for listening at halftime, and making those adjustments,” Western coach Bart Miller said. “There in the third quarter, it paid off. We made a nice healthy run in the third that broke it open for us.”
The Panthers had scored six straight to make the lead 37-27 when Western’s press pounced. Western forced two straight turnovers with fullcourt pressure and converted on the other end with layups by Des Balentine and Mo Townsend to push the lead to 41-27 with 4:09 left in the third.
“A 10-0 run is bad [for the opponent] but if you can extend it with creating turnovers and then capitalizing on those turnovers [that is] a big deal for us,” Miller said. “I thought Evan [Warden] and Des did a nice job of anticipating by making those steals, or at least deflecting the ball to where a teammate could make the steal. And the guys made excellent decisions as we were attacking the basket.”
Later, Western finished the frame with a 3-ball from Warden, then started the fourth with a 3-pointer from Townsend to put Northwestern 20 points back at 53-33.
The Purple Tigers kept trying to claw at the lead, but never got enough going offensively to make a run. The Tigers connected on just 16 of 53 shots.