COAL CITY – With three minutes and 15 seconds left in the third quarter Serena boys basketball coach Dain Twait decided to make a change in strategy.
Leading by only three points, Twait ramped up the pressure against Gardner-South Wilmington and it paid off in a huge way to the tune of a 27-9 monster run throughout the rest of the proceedings which helped close out a 64-42 victory for Serena Friday evening during third night of the annual Thanksgiving Tip-Off Tournament hosted by Coal City.
It was the Huskers first win of the season after losing their first two contests of the tourney.
“We had taken our three-quarter court press off earlier and then I felt it was time to put it back on and see if we could execute and maybe break open a ballgame that was very close,” Twait said. “We finally played as hard and as smart defensively like we need to play every night so I’ll take it against a team like GSW that had already beaten Coal City. I’m pretty proud of the guys for responding so well late in the game.”
Also responding in a big way was Serena standout Cam Figgins, who poured in a game high 24 points, including 15 tallies during the crucial late game rally, where the junior guard was absolutely lethal with his shooting and pressure defensive approach which helped force a whopping 28 GSW turnovers on the night.
“Coming out of the locker room at halftime coach (Twait) gave us a big pep talk and I think that got us really fired up,” Figgins said. “Eventually we had the right lineup in, it all clicked and we put the pieces together to get our first win.”
Figgins received some fine help from sophomore teammates Tanner Faivre and Richie Armour who tallied 11 and 10 points respectively, while senior Hunter Muffler added six and a team-best 10 rebounds.
The Panthers (1-2) saw a club-leading 14 points off the hands of sophomore Cale Halpin and 10 markers from sophomore Bennett Grant. Senior Broday Fatlan hauled in a contest-best 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to counter the Husker’s late game heroics.
“I knew we were close to 30 turnovers and I thought we played terrible after a very good win over Coal City a couple of days ago,” said GSW veteran coach Allan Wills. “Serena just whipped our butts in the later stages of the game tonight so credit to them because they just proved they wanted it more in the end. We’re a young ballclub so hopefully we’ll continue to grow and learn from this.”
During an erratic first quarter where both teams combined for 17 turnovers, Serena grabbed an 11-7 advantage after Faivre nailed a top-of-the-key 3-pointer with just over a minute left in the stanza.
Halpin then registered eight tallies as G-SW went on a 12-7 run to grab a 19-18 lead after Halpin’s left-wing 3-ball at the 2 minute, 25 second mark.
But Figgins was tough from there driving to the hoop scoring four points, all on free throws, as the Huskers closed out the half on a 9-2 rally to lead 27-21 going into the locker room at the half.
Grant was money leading the Panthers back in the third period nailing a pair of 3s at 5:35 and 5:00 before hitting a deuce at 3:40 to help cut Serena’s lead to 37-33 ahead of Halpin’s bucket at the 3:15 mark.
Serena, however, took Twait’s pressure mindset to heart closing out the third quarter on a 6-0 run to up its lead to 43-33.
In the fourth, Figgins was a beast hitting a right baseline triple at 7:50, a deuce at 6:15, another trey at 5:55, a layup at 5:30 before he completed his massive assault with a final bucket at 2:15 which put the Husker’s victory happily to after the immense 19-5 uprising.
Serena (1-2) now advances to the tournament’s third-place game on Saturday versus IC Catholic Prep (2-1) at 5:30 back at Coal City as the Knight’s earned the right to meet the Huskers after finishing second in the other half of the tournament’s pool play at Manteno.
Serena won a three-way tiebreaker with GSW (1-2) and Coal City (1-2) having the best free-throw percentage in order to face the Knights for third place.