Mendota sophomore Aden Tillman was shooting the lights out, with 16 points, including four 3-pointers, to lead the Trojans, who were looking to run away in the second half.
But when the Tigers got going, they got going. They outscored the Trojans by eight to start the fourth quarter and 28-12 over the final eight minutes to post a 72-63 victory in Three Rivers East play.
“I don’t think there was (any doubts),” said PHS junior Noah LaPorte, who had a team-high 29 points. “First half, we came out slow. We’ve been working on that. I kind of feel I’m the biggest leader out there and I couldn’t buy a bucket first half. We just couldn’t worry about that and move on. Had to buckle down in the second half and every one was getting hot and playing good defense, too.”
Smith said he had a deju vu moment to last week’s loss to Hall when the Red Devils shot well and the Tigers showed little energy.
“We got after them a little bit at halftime. They came out a little flat again in the third quarter and then all of a sudden, and I don’t know, with about two minutes to go in the third quarter, something clicked,” Smith said. “They just needed a couple things to go right. And they saw a couple shots go through the basket and it was off to the races from there.”
LaPorte got the Tigers going with a putback to open the fourth quarter and passed off to Korte Lawson for a basket on the break. Daniel Sousa followed with a putback and Evan Driscoll threw an outlet to Tyson Phillips for another fastbreak bucket to give the Tigers their first lead (52-51) since early in the second quarter with 6:33 to play.
Tillman, who hit three 3-pointers in the third quarter, wasn’t done firing yet. He knocked down his eighth trey of the night to put the Trojans up 59-56 with 3:08 left. He finished with a game-high 33 points on a night he simply couldn’t miss.
“He’s a great shooter. He’s a sophomore and probably has around 70 3s,” Mendota coach Steve Wasmer said. “You watch him in practice, there’s days the rim doesn’t even move. Today he was unconscious. I saw Jason (Smith) was getting a little upset (about letting him shoot), but on a couple of them, I don’t even know what I would have done. They defended him well and he made some tough shots.”
Smith said the Tigers needed to close out harder on Tillman.
“When I say I wanted contested shots, I want us to be so far up on them, they have to put the ball on the floor. I think we give them just enough space to get a good look at the basket,” he said. “If we can close out a little harder there, I don’t think he gets as free looks. But he was unconscious. I don’t know how many 3s he had, but he had a bunch.”
“Sometimes you got to tip your hat. You can’t do anything about that. Sometimes it’s that kid’s night. It happens. But we kept going and got the win,” LaPorte said.
After a Sousa putback, Lawson scored on the drive to put the Tigers back in front at 60-59 with 2 1/2 minutes left and they never gave it up.
Jordan Reinhardt hit a 3-pointer and found LaPorte for an alley-oop basket. Sousa scored on a pump fake and added the free throw to convert the 3-point play for a 68-61 lead with 1:05 left. Two free throws each by Lawson and LaPorte wrapped up the Tigers victory.
“We knew they were going to make a run. They’re too good. They’re too experienced. Knew they’d ramp up the intensity and they did,” Wasmer said. “It got physical and we struggled. They did what they had to do and they’re a really good team. They play a tough schedule.”
Sousa finished with 15 points for PHS, Lawson had 10 and Reinhardt added eight.
“(Landon) Roark gave us good minutes with DJ (Sousa) and Noah in foul trouble and I thought Evan Driscoll gave us much energy which was much needed. He had that play where he passed it to Tyson and we went up by two there,” Smith said.
Izaiah Nanez had 13 points for Mendota (10-14, 3-4).
The Tigers improved their record to 6-2 atop the TRAC East, evening out overall at 12-12. LaPorte said it was nice to get back to the .500 mark.
“We’ve definitely been playing a stronger schedule than we did last year, which is nice. It will help us going into the regionals.
Notes: Mendota won the JV prelim 48-32. Dane Doyle led the Trojans with 18 points while Luke LaPorte had 10 points for the host Kittens.