ARCADIA – Before Friday night, Class 2A No. 9 rated Taylor had played only five games, and none since Dec. 21. Hamilton Heights, however had the advantage of another pair of games and one contest during the Christmas break. When the two met in a crucial Mid-Indiana Conference contest, both were looking to get back on track for their first games of 2008 and stay alive in the conference race.

After a hard-fought 32 minutes the host Huskies came out with a much needed 66-59 win to move to 6-3 overall and more importantly even their MIC record at 1-1. Taylor suffered a major setback in the championship race, falling to 1-2 and 4-2 overall.

“We need to be more aggressive if we’re going to have success and I don’t know if it was because of the layoff or what but we struggled tonight when we weren’t aggressive,” said Taylor coach Jeff Fisher. “We had a lot of trouble with our transition defense. We’re still missing assignments and not processing our verbal cues and making them work on the floor, so maybe we need to simplify things a little. Our transition defense was key tonight.”

Austin Weatherford was the main beneficiary of the defensive lapses as he went for a career high 26 points by getting behind the Titans and hitting on numerous lay-ups in transition. The junior guard hit on 11 of 18 shots and 12 of his 26 came in the first quarter as he helped the Huskies race to a 21-8 lead.

Once Tyler Gotshall tied things up at five on a 3-pointer with 5:02 remaining in the first it was Weatherford’s time to shine as he score eight points in a 15-2 run over the next three and a half minutes to put the hosts firmly in control. Defensively the Huskies had a magnificent first quarter, as Aaron Heinzman and Nick Hartley briefly turned things into a volleyball match with six first quarter blocked shots. Three of the blocks came on a single possession.

“We talk about how basketball is a game of spurts and we wanted to come out tonight and take control, which we did,” said Heights coach Chad Ballenger. “We’ve seen probably every game of theirs on tape and we knew they had some good shooters in the Herrs (Drake and Cory) and (Johnathan) Bulger. We simply wanted to contest them and make them hit tough shots.”

While Taylor was unable to get anything going from the outside, it was able to control the tempo of the second quarter to get back into the game. Taylor used the aggressive play of point guard Reomey Northington to pick up the tempo and that led to eight second quarter points from Cory Herr. Taylor closed within five midway through the quarter.

The Titans trailed only 32-27 at the half, but one struggle would come back to haunt them — missed lay-ups. Taylor was unable to connect on several chances within two feet of the basket in the first half, and missed three more lay-ups to start the second half. Gotshall got going in earnest in the third stanza with 10 of his team-high 22 points as Hartley got into foul trouble, opening the lane for Gotshall.

“All of our success was inside tonight because we only hit on three 3-pointers,” said Fisher. “We missed some easy ones so what else can you do?”

Gotshall connected on a pair of free throws with 57 seconds remaining in the third to pull Taylor within two at 42-40, but Weatherford once again stepped up. He was able to get a wide open look just before the buzzer and he made the Titans pay with a critical 3-pointer to make it 45-40.

Heights then used a strong start to the fourth to push the lead back out to 13 at 58-45 thanks to three more baskets inside by Hartley who finished with 12. The game appeared pretty well decided when Weatherford scored on another fastbreak with 4:31 left to give the Huskies that 13 point lead.

Taylor had one last gasp, however, as Northington used his quickness for a pair of steals and got loose for two triples to go with two more Gotshall baskets to make it 58-55 Heights with 1:56 to go. Taylor then appeared to have a 10 second call give them the ball back, but a foul was whistled in the back court with 1:41 left, sending Caleb Small to the free throw line.

Small connected on both attempts and Weatherford added two more a minute later to put things away.

Northington had a solid night, finishing with 12 points, 5 steals, and a handful of assists.

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