By Matt Goisman
CANADIAN — The Canadian Cougars held down the Stuart Hornets for the first half, but the second half belonged to Hornets guard Kaleb Wilson.
Wilson scored 15 of his game-high 24 total points in the second half, leading the Hornets to a 62-46 win Tuesday at Darrell James Gymnasium in Canadian.
“It was just a fact of spreading the defense out,” Wilson said. “I knew we’d hit big shots. We just had to settle down.”
Starting with a layup by Wilson, Stuart put the game away with an 18-6 run to begin the third quarter. Canadian committed a turnover on its next possession, then Dillon Lawrence’s layup made it 27-12 Stuart.
Chase Shearwood scored a 3-pointer for the Cougars, but on the opposite end Wilson found Sam Mitchell on a backdoor cut for a layup. Shearwood then knocked down another 3-pointer, but Wilson drained a jump shot for a 31-18 lead.
That jump shot began a string of 12 unanswered points by the Hornets. Lawrence scored on a pass from Wilson, then turned a steal into two free throws to make it 35-18.
After another Cougars miss, Lawrence scored yet again. Eight of his 10 total points came in the third.
Following another miss by Canadian, Wilson went on the fastbreak, at the last second dishing out a behind-the-back pass to Mitchell for a layup that got the visitor’s side of the gymnasium shouting and applauding. Wilson finished the run with a layup that made it 41-18.
The Cougars outscored the Hornets 19-18 in the fourth, getting points from five different players and at one point making it a 10-point game, but they dug themselves into big a hole in the third quarter to make a full comeback impossible.
“I’m bigger in every position, basically .... and they were the ones that looked like they were the stronger, tougher, more experienced team that would get to the rim under control,” Canadian coach Daniel Lokey said. “We looked intimidated.”
Canadian’s biggest issue Tuesday has been its biggest problem all season: the team lacks a second scoring threat behind Shearwood. Though Shearwood scored 19 for the Cougars and Ryan Leal scored 10 on three 3-pointers, no other Cougar scored more than 5.
“We just couldn’t put the ball in the hole,” Shearwood said. “They were on me. I tried to create space and go around them but couldn’t do it.”
Stuart coach Darrick Farriell called him “probably the best shooter in the whole conference” and tasked Wilson and Mitchell with guarding Shearwood. Considering Lokey said Shearwood averaged more than 30 points per game before Tuesday, Farriell said Wilson and Mitchell did their job in holding Shearwood to 19.
The Cougars went with a 2-3 trap defense designed to force Stuart’s guards into turnovers. That strategy helped Canadian outscore Stuart in the first quarter, 10-6.
Wilson began the first with an alley-oop pass to Lawrence for a 2-0 lead, but two free throws from Shearwood tied the game. Leal connected with Caleb Jarrett for a 4-2 Canadian lead, then Derek Beck tied it with a layup.
Shearwood put the Cougars up 6-4 with a backdoor cut, Ty Weiher went 1-for-2 at the line, then Shearwood drained a 3-pointer for a 10-4 lead.
Wilson’s layup ended the first-quarter scoring, but the Hornets made it a 10-9 game early in the second when Wilson took a defensive rebound coast-to-coast, drained the layup, drew a foul and sank the free throw.
Grady Brewer’s layup gave Stuart an 11-10 lead the Hornets never relinquished.
“Once we got rolling, I thought the kids just loosened up, starting playing our game and not playing so stiff like we did early in the ballgame,” Farriell said. “We started sharing the ball around better than we did early in the ballgame, quit taking bad shots and quit having so many early turnovers.”
Tuesday’s game was a rematch of the 2013 Pitt 8 Tournament championship. With the 2014 tournament less than two weeks away, the game couldn’t help but be a measuring stick for two teams gunning for a tournament and conference championship this year.
“Are we going to prove that we are the better or are they going to prove that deserve that one-seed (in the tournament) and they are the better team?” Lokey said.
“We didn’t prove that. They proved they deserved that one-seed.”
With the win, Stuart improved to 8-1. Canadian fell to 8-3.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.