Despite jumping out to a 24-7 lead after only 10 minutes of action, it actually wasn't how Hinsdale Central started on Friday at Glenbard West, but rather how the Red Devils finished.
Showing the ability to withstand a challenge -- and hit clutch free throws -- Hinsdale Central held off a furious Corey Davis-led rally by the Hilltoppers to post a 57-53 West Suburban Silver victory.
"Coach (Nick Latorre) told us to be tough out there," said Hinsdale Central center Matt Rafferty. "If it's not going your way you still have to learn to go after it. We just have to close out games better, that's been the emphasis from Day One, and fortunately we did that a little better at the end today."
Rafferty was the main reason that the Red Devils (13-5, 5-1) were able to establish their comfortable early lead. By halftime when Hinsdale Central led 31-18, he had already stuffed the stat sheet to the tune of 13 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals on the way to 19 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists for the night.
Leading 16-7 early in the second quarter, Rafferty and Grant Lillard each hit a 3-pointer in a 50-second span and combined to score 8 straight points as the Red Devils appeared to put the game on cruise control.
Meanwhile, Kalen Starkey was the lone offensive threat for Glenbard West. He was the only Hilltopper to score a field goal in the game's first 11 minutes.
According to Davis, Glenbard West (7-10, 1-4) found itself behind the eight ball because the Hilltoppers "weren't ready to play. We prepared and prepared all week, but we just didn't come out and play."
Davis' layup at the first-half buzzer appeared to do little more than slice the deficit to 13, but in actuality it served as the impetus for a turnaround in the third quarter as the Hilltoppers forced 10 Hinsdale Central turnovers, which helped lead to a 13-2 run that pulled Glenbard West within 33-29 midway through the quarter.
"I thought we were playing a little tight for a stretch and during a timeout I talked about just playing basketball," Latorre said. "It was a combination of carelessness on our part and trying too hard to run the offense, and when they started pressing we had to attack them."
A late Grant Hutcherson basket pushed Hinsdale Central's edge to 38-31 after three quarters, but Davis almost single-handedly brought Glenbard West back, scoring 8 consecutive points that got the Hilltoppers within 52-49 with 33 seconds left before Jordan Bradshaw, Rafferty and Thomas Ives hit 5 free throws in the final moments to seal the victory.
"We've been coming up a little short all season and we have to start turning those short losses into wins," said Davis, who finished with a game-high 20 points while adding 6 rebounds and 4 steals. "We're getting better every day, but we just have to start finishing off games."