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Anthony Wayne emerged with not only a signature win but also an abundance of confidence in a showdown against Whitmer on Tuesday night.
In a nonleague contest featuring two of the area's best big men, the Generals held off visiting Whitmer 50-41.
University of Michigan-bound center Mark Donnal finished with a double-double for the Generals. Donnal (6-foot-9) led Anthony Wayne with 15 points and 10 rebounds before a crowd of about 1,900.
Whitmer's Nigel Hayes (6-7), who will play at the University of Wisconsin, finished with a game-high 16 points and had seven rebounds.
The Panthers trailed by just one point with 2:52 left, but the Generals finished the game with an 8-0 run. Two late turnovers by Whitmer and key rebounds by AW helped the Generals put it away.
Anthony Wayne (15-2) came into the game unranked in the Division I state poll. Whitmer (13-5) entered the contest ranked 10th in the D-I poll. The showdown of AW of the Northern Lakes League and Whitmer of the Three Rivers Athletic Conference featured a series of runs by each team.
“This gives us a lot of confidence,” Donnal said. “We know if we want to go far in the tournament we have to get wins like this because we're going to play teams like this down the road. There are a lot of people doubting us that we aren't good enough to play against the good TRAC teams like this. But, obviously, we proved people wrong tonight and put us on the map.”
Junior Matt Fox and seniors Hunter Debo and Ose Omofoma each scored 10 points for the Generals. Omofoma also had six rebounds, while Fox had five boards.
“Mark and Nigel are great players, and they deserve the headlines,” AW coach Bryan Borcherdt said. “But oftentimes it is about your supporting cast, and ours has stepped up all season in big games. If we can play like that, we are a good team. Right now we are defending well. To hold Whitmer to 41 points is saying something. They are a great team.”
Whitmer's Luke Hickey had 12 points, including two 3-pointers, and Ricardo Smith chipped in with 10 points.
It was evenly played and tied at 10 after the first quarter and knotted at 24 at the half. The Generals pushed ahead by outscoring the Panthers 12-9 in the third quarter.
Donnal took a perfect feed inside from his cousin Jake Reid, and his two-handed dunk gave the Generals a 42-38 lead with 3:17 left.
But Whitmer responded with a 3-pointer from Chris Parker to make it a one-point game.
Donnal then pulled down a key offensive rebound with 1:55 left. Debo then drew a foul and knocked down both free throws for a 44-41 lead with 1:36 remaining.
Reid then came up with a steal tipping the ball to Donnal. Debo then hit two more clutch free throws to put AW up 46-41 with 1:11 left.
After an unforced turnover by Hayes, Reid came up with a defensive rebound and was fouled. He converted both free throws for the final margin.
“They outplayed us and they are better than us,” Whitmer coach Bruce Smith said. “I'm disappointed in a lot of things. We're not very good right now. I didn't think we played well at all defensively or offensively. We have to re-evaluate what you are doing and you find out how much kids are bothered by losing. I hope they dislike it as much as I do.”
Anthony Wayne opened the third quarter with an 11-2 spurt to take a 35-26 lead. The run included a 3 pointer from the corner by Donnal. But the Panthers responded with a 7-0 run, including three points and two rebounds from Hayes, to pull back within one.
But AW still led 36-33 going into the final quarter.
In the second quarter, Whitmer seized a 21-12 lead with an 11-2 run capped by Hayes' inside basket.
“We would like to win every game but this won't affect our confidence,” Hayes said. “We know we didn't play our best game and we will correct the things we need to correct.”
But Anthony Wayne answered with an 11-0 run and Fox drained a 3 pointer for a 23-21 lead.
Hickey had all 12 of his points in the first half.
AW finished with a 26-16 edge on the boards. Whitmer had 10 turnovers and the Generals had 11.
“Our guys rallied when they had to, they held together when they had to and they executed when they had to,” Borcherdt said. “Guys made plays. They believe in themselves. But we also realize we have a bigger [NLL] game on Friday night against Bowling Green.”