Close games always shine a spotlight on the little things. For the Wilson Trojans (7-5, 2-2), free throw shooting took center stage in their 65-62 road loss to Grant (3-10, 3-2) on Thursday night.
“We went 6 of 20 from the free throw line,” Wilson head coach Scott Aker said. “You’re not going to win a close game going 6 of 20.”
Not only did the Trojans shoot just 30 percent from the charity stripe, they missed on their final six attempts after having a three-point lead with two and a half minutes remaining.
“We fouled the right guys,” Grant head coach Robert Key said. “We told them at halftime if you’re going to foul anyone, foul the ones that have been missing.”
There were times throughout the game that it appeared free throws wouldn’t matter. Grant scored the first ten points of the game and led 23-11 after the first quarter.
Wilson came back to tie the game at 32 going into halftime behind senior guard Ben Lensch, who had 13 of his team-high 18 points in the first half.
“I don’t think the subs had their A-games like they did in other games in the past,” Key said. “We have to be on all cylinders with any subs I bring in.”
While Lensch carried the Trojans, Grant had a senior guard of their own lead the way. DJ Kennedy scored 14 of his game-high 22 points in the first half, including a four-point play.
“DJ is the straw that stirs the drink for us,” Key said. “He ignited us today.”
Wilson continued their momentum into the third quarter. Thiesen, who had 10 points, scored the opening basket of the second half to give the Trojans their first lead. They extended the lead to 41-35 before Grant ended the quarter on a 13-3 run to ahead 48-44 goign into the final eight minutes.
“We took care of the basketball,” Key said. “Take care of the ball and defend Ben Lensch. He’s a great player. So I put DJ on him.”
Kennedy held Lensch to just five points in the second half, forcing another Wilson player to step up.
That Trojan was Max Lommen. The sophomore, coming off a collar-bone injury, buried four three-pointers in the second half to account for all of his points. His final triple put Wilson ahead 62-59 with 2:25 left in the game.
Grant kept their poise and executed their half-court offense in the closing minutes. Senior forward Caleb Weekly converted a layup to pull Grant within one. He was fouled on the shot, but missed the free throw. The Generals, like the Trojans, struggled from the free throw line, but managed to make eight of their 15 attempts.
After two missed free throws by Thiesen, Duarte Papa-Vicente put Grant ahead 63-62. Jaylen Eichler and Thiesen both missed a pair of free throws before Eli Wilman extended Grant’s lead to 65-62. Wilman added 13 points to complement Kennedy’s 22.
Grant’s Ian Looney missed a pair from the charity stripe that could have put the out of reach. However, Lensch’s game-tying corner never had a chance, falling short of the rim.
After Kennedy led the way early and the subs struggled, it was a team effort in the final minutes.
“I want to be able to trust all of them,” Key said of his players. “I don’t want teams focusing on one or two players. I want them focusing on our team. That way the best team wins.”
The better team Thursday night was Grant as the Generals move to 3-2 in PIL play after going 0-9 in non-conference action.
“The teams that we played in preseason was one of the toughest preseasons I’ve ever been involved in,” Key said. “It only helped us.”
The Generals will look to make their league record 4-2 when they host Madison on Friday night. Wilson goes on the road to face PIL-leader Lincoln on Friday night.