By RJ Walters / Daily News Sports Editor
As published in the Hillsdale Daily News on Feb. 14, 2009
The Hillsdale Hornets certainly learned a thing or two from losing to Western last month and now tough lessons have become happy smiles as Brad Felix’s team controls its own destiny.
The 3-point line was the land of good and plenty for the Hornets (10-4 overall. 5-2 SMAA) Friday and the charity stripe was equally generous as Hillsdale carried a 14-5 first quarter margin to a 62-54 conference win over the Panthers (6-8, 5-2).
When the two teams played at Western on Jan. 9 the Panthers hit 15 straight free throws at one point and cruised to a double-digit victory. On Friday Western didn’t even attempt a single free throw, while Hillsdale went 15-of-26.
And 35 days ago no one stepped up to help when Mitchell Gabriele was smothered by Panthers defenders. This time Nick Kelley and Scott Lantis pitched in 17 points apiece and Kyle MacDonald added 11, while Gabriele was held to 10. It also helped that the Hornets drained eight 3-pointers.
“They were guarding up Gabs pretty good, just like they always do, they were all over him and coming in we knew Kelley and I had to step up and MacDonald also hit some big shots and it was good to see everybody contributing,” said Lantis, who hit three 3-pointers in the contest. “We control our own destiny and we’re really going to make a run at this thing and try and sweep the second half and go for it. This is a big momentum builder for us, a big win and it was a lot of fun.”
For the fun to continue the Hornets must keep winning. If they win out, including a second victory over Albion who has just one league loss to this point, they are guaranteed an SMAA crown.
It was Lantis who got the ball rolling early, with seven points in the first quarter and he picked up the slack late with a triple to put the Hornets up 42-41 with 6:46 left.
Felix said he is thrilled to see his senior playing so well the past few weeks after a January slump.
“I used a baseball analogy with him since he’s a baseball guy,” Felix said. “When he was in a slump I simply told him, ‘What would you do if you were not hitting the ball?’ and he said, “Well, I’d keep swinging.’ So I said, then keep shooting until I tell you to stop and we keep on working on it.”
Western coach Lee Ingles thought Lantis was half the reason the Hornets prevailed, with the other piece being Kelley.
“They really stepped up tonight, especially Kelley on the boards,” he said. “I thought he had a great game and that bothered us.”
Ingles relied on a stellar senior of his own to keep things close at The Hive. Leading scorer Nate Scholten had just five points at the half, but finished with 22 with a nice array of long shots and hard drives to the basket.
Ingles called Scholten a “gutsy guy who loves to play and wants to do good things”, but admitted even he couldn’t get the job done late.
When asked about his team not getting to the foul line all evening Ingles said it surely helped the Hornets cause, but it was not an unfair advantage.
“It’s almost a reverse from last time since we didn’t have any free throws in the fourth quarter this time and some of that’s home court, but I thought it was a well played game and the officials did a good job,” he said.
Felix said part of the free-throw discrepancy was from how the Hornets attacked defensively, but even Felix grinned at the final stat-line.
“We knew we had to play defense without fouling them because we know what happened last time and we had that on the board….so that was a big key,” But oh, hell I didn’t even know that. I don’t want to talk about it then, I didn’t know it was that bad. That was a big part of our win obviously with the way those guys shoot free throws.”
Gabriele added six boards and five assists in the win and Lantis pulled down six rebounds.
Nick Eddy scored 10 for Western and Conner Clark put in eight points.