Bartlett boys basketball coach Jim Wolfsmith saw two familiar sights when his squad traveled to Metea Valley on Friday night for a critical early-season Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division contest.
The first -- his team relinquishing a substantial first-quarter lead -- he hopes to never see again. The second -- senior point guard Jon Moss stepping to the free-throw line with the game hanging in the balance -- he'll take any day of the week.
Moss rewarded his coach's faith by converting both ends of a 1-and-1 with seven seconds to play for the final points in a hard-fought 40-37 Hawks victory.
"We have this free-throw shooting drill where the whole team shoots one and they have to make a certain number or they run and Jon is always our last shooter and he makes it every time," Wolfsmith said.
"I was just trying to calm down, shoot like I practice and knock them down," Moss added.
The way the game started, it looked like late-game heroics would be the last thing the Hawks (8-3, 5-1) would require. The first quarter was a scintillating display of team basketball as all five starters had scored by the time the Hawks had 11 points. Six of their seven baskets in the quarter came courtesy of assists, four of which were provided by Marcus Aluquin.
That helped Bartlett turn an early 5-4 deficit into a 19-8 lead after eight minutes, with Lance Whitaker scoring the last 10 points for the Hawks, while Melvin Meeks tallied all 8 for the Mustangs.
But just like that the game turned 180 degrees. Sparked by bench players Hayden Barnard, Derek Coleman, Conner Archey and Devin Flowers, the Mustangs (6-5, 4-2) outscored the Hawks 13-2 in the second quarter, with coach Bob Vozza choosing to leave three of this starters on the bench for the entire period -- along with the first four minutes of the third quarter -- as the game went to the half knotted 21-21.
"We went to our bench and had good energy, Hayden had good energy, Derek had good energy and we got back in it at the half," Vozza said. "At halftime we said we wanted to come out in the third quarter and do the same thing. We have confidence in our bench and feel that they can give us good minutes."
As Bartlett's scoring drought reached nearly nine minutes, the Mustangs moved ahead 31-27 after three quarters thanks to 3-pointers by Vin Patel and Sean Davis.
Then, just like the first quarter bore no resemblance to the second, the fourth swung back in Bartlett's favor. Metea could manage only six free throws over the final eight minutes while the Hawks got big buckets Whitaker and Moss in the final three minutes before Moss' free-throw shooting sewed it up.
"This game was exactly the same thing as Waubonsie Valley; we were up 19-2 in the first quarter, then at the half it was tied 23-23 (in an eventual triple-overtime win)," Wolfsmith said. "The second half tonight was a war and we came out on the positive side of the war."