An excellent first half by the Westminster Christian boys basketball team staked the Warriors to a large enough lead to withstand a determined second-half run by Harvest Christian Academy in a 63-47 victory at the Seventh Annual Warrior Thanksgiving Classic Tuesday.
Westminster Christian (2-0) bolted to a 36-20 halftime lead, propelled by 12 of Sam Carani's team-high 18 points and 3 of Connor Rejman's 5 makes from 3-point range.
The Warriors then used a 14-4 run at the start of the second half to build their largest lead of the game. Two free throws by Carani, a Carani drive to the bucket and junior Robert Kleczynski's breakaway layup off a steal put the Warriors ahead 50-24 with 1:58 left in the third quarter.
Instead of caving, as coach Jeff Boldog believed his team had done in Monday's 74-48 season-opening loss to St. Edward, Harvest Christian (0-2) fought its way back into contention. The Lions erupted for an 18-2 run to make the game interesting, led by 6-foot-7 center John Vislisel. The senior made 3 steals and scored 7 of his game-high 19 points during the surge.
"The constant coaching and the players encouraging each other gave us a sense of urgency," said Vislisel, who led all rebounders with 11. "We weren't hitting early on, but we started scoring and that gave us a new sense of confidence."
A free throw from sophomore guard Jake Adams drew the Lions within 52-44 with 2:16 to play, but that was as close as Harvest Christian came. Westminster Christian responded with 7-0 run to ice it, thanks to Kleczynski, who scored 3 straight buckets en route to a 13-point night. First, Dillon Rejman spotted Kleczynski open for a basket against Harvest's press. He then scored a pair of breakaway baskets off missed shots by the Lions.
"I liked how we closed, but I didn't like the part when they went on that run," Westminster Christian coach Bruce Firchau said. "That was a long run. We got a little tentative and we showed our youth, but those are lessons that are valuable for us. That's why we tell our boys it's not over until it's over."
The teams rebounded to a near draw, but the Warriors held the advantage from beyond the arc. Connor Rejman scored 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting from 3-point range and Sam Carani added a pair of 3-pointers.
"We'll take that any night of the season and twice on Tuesday," Firchau said.
"They were going under screens so I just had to catch and shoot," Connor Rejman said.
Meanwhile, Harvest shot 1 of 15 from long distance.
"Their 3-point shooting was the difference in the game," Harvest Christian coach Jeff Boldog said. "If they don't make a lot of those and we make a couple of our open threes late in the game, maybe it's a different outcome. The thing I was most proud of was they battled for all four quarters and they didn't give up."