TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City West seemed to get a jolt of confidence and momentum all at once.
A victory over your biggest rival can do that.
Holding Traverse City Central to one point in the last four minutes, West’s boys basketball team notched a much-needed win, 43-36, on Thursday in front of an inspired crowd at West High School.
“It’s a good win for us here at home. We needed it,” said West junior guard Alex Scott. “We’re a really young team with a new coach and it’s really coming together right now. A win like this is going to start a winning streak. We’re going to get it going. We’re going to end the year on a pretty good run and we’re all feeling that right now. We have the utmost confidence right now that it’s going to carry through to the rest of the year.”
Scott led the Titans (3-7, 2-2 Big North) on the offensive end with 14 points, but it was West’s defense that proved to be the difference in a contest where the margin was just two points with four minutes remaining.
“We knew we had to buckle down,” said Scott. “It’s like our Super Bowl right now and we knew this was our moment to get it done.”
With the game hanging in the balance, and West clinging to a 37-35 lead, the Titans stifled the Trojans (2-7, 2-2) and limited them to a single free throw. West turned up its defensive pressure, extending it to half court and beyond, providing Central with a difficult time to get any rhythm going offensively.
“It comes down to their execution versus our execution and their execution was better,” said Central head coach Jeff Turner. “We just didn’t take care of the ball like we should have or score when we needed to.”
The game was the first in the West-Central rivalry for new Titans head coach Greg Immink, who liked the way his team responded in a postseason-like atmosphere.
“A lot of fun for our guys. Our guys are pumped about this win,” said Immink. “We’ve lost a boatload of games by just a couple of points — Petoskey, Brighton, Cadillac — the list goes on and on. We’re really close and we just need a little fire to push things over the top. Tonight was definitely fun and hopefully we can keep the momentum going throughout the rest of the league season. It’s going to be a tight race. It looks like it’s going to go all the way down to the wire. It was a good win for us tonight.”
Thiyo Lukusa added 10 points and five rebounds in limited minutes for the Titans, missing a good portion of the first half and early in the fourth quarter with foul trouble. He fouled out with 3:19 to go. Lukusa gave West the lead for good late in the third quarter when he scored back-to-back baskets, first on a turnaround jumper, then on a short drive to the bucket where he pulled up and buried a five-footer. The second basket put West ahead 30-27.
Forward Jonny Wheelock chipped in with five boards for West.
Nate Schlusler led Central with 12 points and Max Knoblock had nine points.
Central was ahead 10-7 after one period, but trailed 19-18 at the half. The Trojans scored the first three field goals of the second half to build their biggest lead of the night, 24-19, but West got on track offensively and went into the fourth with a 33-30 advantage.
Turner is mostly perplexed by the difference in his team’s intensity between practices and games.
“We’re definitely practicing hard. The problem we’ve had is the practice intensity doesn’t match the game intensity,” he said. “It’s not the same experience we’re getting in practice that we are in the games.
“I just challenged the kids to come tomorrow, be ready to go to work. There’s a lot of season left. Let’s see what you’re capable of. Let’s play. Don’t pout, don’t whine or complain. Just play.”
The Titans were 50-39 winners in the JV game. Josh Roman’s 19 points and Nick Brzezinski’s 11 points led West. James Brumfield scored 20 for the Trojans.
West won the freshman game 57-37. Carson Rosa led the Titans with 25 points and Caleb Corwin had 15. For Central, Nik Norton scored 14 points.