OXFORD — Evan Kretz scored nine of his 15 points during the game-changing third quarter Friday night to help Western pull away for a 58-43 basketball victory at Benton Central.
The Panthers (13-7) only trailed once during the ninth-place game of the Hoosier Conference playoffs, but Kretz played a part in a 15-0 run that turned a five-point halftime lead into an insurmountable 45-21 advantage.
Foul trouble kept Kretz on the bench for much of the first half. Unleashed at the start of the third quarter, Kretz’s old-fashioned three-point play nine seconds into the half set the tone.
“He was very aggressive,” Western coach Michael Lewis said of Kretz, who only played 13 minutes. “He had a great week of practice. You could tell he was really prepared to play [Friday]. I was excited to see him get going in the second half. When he’s aggressive it takes us to another level.”
Kyle Sanders, who opened the game with back-to-back 3-pointers, had seven of his game-high 18 points in the third quarter. Sanders and Kretz sank consecutive 3s to trigger the 15-0 run with four minutes to play in the third quarter. Jett Engle, who finished with 14 points, extended the run with a three-point play of his own.
That offensive burst was in stark contrast to the Panthers’ first half. Western took a 22-17 lead to the locker room but was just 6-of-18 shooting from the field.
“I don’t know that we necessarily played poorly in the first half,” Lewis said. “We didn’t make very many shots in the first half. When the ball goes in it looks like you are playing really, really well. That’s the interesting thing about basketball: so much is focused on the end result, but I thought we got good shots. They just weren’t going down.
“We didn’t change anything between the two halves. We just told the kids to go out there and play carefree and put the ball in the hole. They did.”
The Panthers improved to 11-of-21 shooting (52.4%) over the final 16 minutes. They also sank all 10 free throw attempts to make sure the host Bison would not be able to make a comeback.
But the most impressive statistic of the night for Western could be found in the turnover column: 2. For nearly 29 minutes, the Panthers committed just one turnover.
“We took care of the ball,” Lewis said. “There wasn’t a ton of pressure.
“I thought the telling part of the night was we had 11 assists. We were sharing the basketball. We had 17 field goals and 11 of them were off assists.”
Connor Hall led Benton Central (7-13) with 15 points.
A stretch of five consecutive away games to end the regular season continues tonight at Lafayette Central Catholic, which won the Hoosier Conference with Friday night’s 68-61 victory against Hamilton Heights.
With a game at Carroll on Tuesday to close out the season, Lewis is hoping his team can take some momentum into the Class 3A sectional at Twin Lakes.
“I just want to see us continue to be hungry, humble and play for each other,” he said. “When they are playing for each other and no one gets the credit, I think we’ve got a really nice ballclub.”