Columbus East kept things close in the second half and cut the deficit to one point during Tuesday night’s boys basketball game against Whiteland.
The Warriors then went on a 12-0 run late in the third quarter and eventually secured a 68-56 victory over the Olympians.
Whiteland looked like it was going to run away with it early on when it jumped out to a 9-0 lead in the first four minutes of the game. One of Columbus East’s top players, Ben Sylva, came on as a sub. Sylva missed Saturday’s game against Noblesville because of a hip injury. He ended up providing a spark for the Olympians to finish out the quarter. He scored five of the 10 points during a 10-5 run to cut it to 14-10 after the first quarter.
Sylva kept his momentum going in the second quarter with two big 3-point baskets during an 8-3 run to give East (0-3) its first lead of the game at 18-16. Drew Higdon gave the Warriors (2-0) the lead back by scoring the final nine points that included a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the first half for a 30-26 lead.
“We knew they had some guys that shot the 3 well. They were going to hunt 3s, and we knew we had to do a good job on them. To start the game early when we made our run, we were doing a nice job of defending their action and getting hands up on shooters,” Whiteland coach Nate Cangany said. “Then Sylva came in. He’s a nice player, nice shooter and he hit some deep ones. I think it surprised our guys a little bit how quickly he shot 3s that deep.”
The Olympians cut the lead to 34-33 early in the third quarter, but Austin Willoughby scored nine of the Warriors 12 points to end the third quarter to help grow the lead back up to double digits for the second time in the game 46-35 heading into the fourth quarter.
The perimeter shooting for East kept it in striking distance, trailing only 56-46 midway through the fourth quarter, but the Warriors converted enough of their free throws to put the game away.
The free throw shooting of the Olympians didn’t help their cause of coming back. They shot only 2 of 7 from the line. The Warriors shot 19 of 29 from the line.
“I liked our effort. I thought our kids played. Our kids competed,” East coach Brent Chitty said. “We didn’t have a good third quarter, and our free-throw shooting was atrocious and we had some wide open looks that you’ve just got to knock down, especially when you’re giving a lot of size up, you got to make them pay. I’ve seen our kids do it in practice. We know we can hit free throws.”
For Whiteland, Willoughby finished with a game-high 19 points. Higdon had 18 and Max Sullivan and Wiatt McLaughlin each added 11.
“This is my third year at Whiteland, and this is the deepest and most balanced team we’ve had. Our first game, we had three guys in double figures. Our scrimmage, we had four guys in double digits, and it’s different guys,” Cangany said. “I really do believe we have seven or eight guys who can score in double figures at some point this year.”
For East, Will Rieckers and Julius Dailey finished with 18 points apiece. Sylva added 15.