Whitmer’s Kemontrece Collins, right, pulls down a rebound over St. Francis’ Jacob Lang.
Whitmer couldn’t shake St. Francis de Sales for much of the Three Rivers Athletic Conference opener on Friday night.
The host Panthers needed a spark, and 6-foot-1 sophomore Samuel Hickey came off Whitmer’s bench to provide it.
He scored eight of his 12 points in the second half to help lead a 54-50 victory. Two of his baskets came from the 3-point arc.
“Coach Brown told me before the game if I got shots to take them and don’t be afraid,” Hickey said. “Fortunately, they were going down tonight.”
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Jonathon Ashe, a 6-foot-2 senior, matched Hickey with a team-high 12 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Chris Boykin added 10 points, including a 6-for-9 effort from the foul line during the fourth quarter.
Their contributions helped Whitmer first-year coach Ryan Brown collect his first win.
“It’s pressure to win, and I wanted to win for our kids,” Brown said. “Our kids have put a lot of hard work in. It’s a great feeling.
“It wasn’t the prettiest win, but hopefully nobody will remember that.”
Dontay Ellison came off the Knights’ bench to pump in a team-high 12 points. Jacob Lang scored nine points, and Evan Wheeler finished with eight points and eight rebounds.
“We've got a lot of guys, and this is their first time playing varsity basketball, so they’ve got to understand what the speed of the game is [at this level],” St. Francis coach Travis Lewis said. “We're going to continue to get better and we’ll start making shots. To come on the road and lose by four after playing so horrific on offense, the sky is still the limit.”
Whitmer (1-1, 1-0 TRAC), which opened the season with a tough loss to Southview - coached by former Panthers coach Bruce Smith, opened the fourth quarter against the Knights with a 5-0 spurt after closing out the third peried leading 36-35.
The Knights (1-1, 0-1) never got any closer than four points the rest of the game. Whitmer, which sank 9 of 13 free throws in the final quarter, refused to let its lead slip away.
“We practiced hard all week, and we emphasized this is our first league game, and we’ve got to get this win,” Hickey said. “We played well, and fortunately we got it.”
Both teams were guilty of not taking care of the basketball. St. Francis committed 19 turnovers while Whitmer had 18.
Lewis believes several of the Knights’ miscues were unforced and can be corrected.
“We just have to do a better job of eliminating our unforced turnovers,” Lewis said. “Whitmer did a great job defensively by containing us, but a lot of the errors were passing to guys that just weren’t there.”
The first half, which ended in a 20-20 tie, had four lead changes in the first 16 minutes. Neither team led by more than four in that span.
Wheeler, a 6-6 senior, was effective early for the Knights near the basket, registering all of his points and six of his team-high nine rebounds before halftime.
However, St. Francis’ dominant play near the rim didn't continue in the second half, and Whitmer was able to eventually take the lead and hold on to win.
Brown credited Hickey with providing the lift Whitmer needed to get past the Knights.
“We were having a hard time scoring with only 20 points at half,” Brown said. “Sam Hickey came in and stepped up and hit a couple of big shots, and Chris Boykin making the free throws at the end was huge.”