The old cliche in high school basketball of “It is difficult to beat a team three times in one season” had Kalamazoo Central coach Ramsey Nichols ready for whatever Mattawan might throw at the Maroon Giants Wednesday night.
“I expected a tough game,” said Nichols, “We’ve had two good battles with them already this season.”
The Maroon Giants were able to use a stingy defense to keep the Wildcats on their heels to pull out a 51-43 victory on their home floor.
Mattawan used the hot hand of BJ Saunders to jump out to an 8-6 lead midway through the first quarter. As both teams turned up the heat in the middle of the first, back to back three pointers from Central’s Nick Hill and Trevon Gunter and a bucket from Luis Paz to keep pace with Mattawan’s scoring from inside and out over the course of the next 1:15 to test the ability of the Zuidema Gymnasium’s scoreboard operator to keep up as the score climbed to 12-12 with just under 3 minutes to play. In the last minute of play, when the Wildcats did miss, it was 6-foot-10 center Nolan Foster who was there for the rebound and put back to give Mattawan a 16-12 lead heading into the second quarter.
The second quarter followed the same back and forth rhythm, with Central’s Luis Paz and Mattawan’s Foster both keeping the game close with free throws and shots from the floor. When Foster was able to get a rebound and put back with just under 2 minutes remaining, Mattawan took it’s largest lead of the game at 25-17. A three pointer from Paz in the final minute and a quick retaliation bucket from Foster closed out the scoring heading into the locker room with the Wildcats ahead, 29-23.
Coach Nichols went into the locker room at halftime and reminded his players what they had been doing well all season to get them to this point.
“It was a grind out game, we just needed to get quality shots,” said Nichols, “We didn’t take great shots in the first half.”
The Maroon Giants came out and clamped down the defense on the 6’10” Wildcat giant that had been hurting them in the paint in the first half, preventing him from scoring in the second half.
“We didn’t front Nolan,” said coach Nichols, “Justin (Davis) said, ‘I’ve got him coach’, and he did an excellent job defending him and controlling the paint.”
That change in defense forced the Wildcats to start depending on their perimeter game. When the Giants closed the gap to just one point following a free throw just under two minutes into the third, Mattawan worked the ball around the perimeter and BJ Saunders hit a bucket to finally put the Wildcats on the board in the second half.
But Kalamazoo Central’s Jadakiss Lewis and Darius Pruitt would each hit two shots from the floor to bookend a Saunders three pointer at the other end to give Central it’s first lead since the 3:05 mark in the first quarter.
It was Mattawan’s Matt Pelak with three pointers on consecutive trips down the floor in the last 1:09 of the third that put the Wildcats back on top, 40-38, heading into the fourth quarter.
The Maroon Giants came out in the fourth and, after Mattawan’s Jaden Mabin opened the scoring with a bucket just 1:18 into the quarter, tightened up their defense and didn’t allow the Wildcats to score from the floor for the remainder of the game.
“Our guys stayed with it and gutted it out. We stuck to what we do well,” said Nichols, “Tough defense is a staple of what we do.”
Even though he was doing the yeoman’s share of work on the defensive end guarding Foster, Justin Davis hit shots on successive trips down the floor to tie the game back up at 42.
Two free throws from Pruitt the next time down the court would give the Giants a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, and after Luis Paz buried two more shots to put the Maroon Giants ahead 48-43, the Wildcats were forced to start fouling in an attempt to stop the clock and get the ball back. Trevon Gunter would go 3 for 4 from the line to close out the scoring and send Kalamazoo Central onto Friday’s district final game against Portage Central.
“We’re expecting it to be a tough outing Friday night,” said Nichols, “We’ll look to exploit some weaknesses we saw earlier in the season.”
Video by Coletin Gascho
Kalamazoo Central Scoring – (12-11-15-13 – 51)
Luis Paz – 19
Darius Pruitt – 14
Trevon Gunter – 8
Jadakiss Lewis – 6
Justin Davis – 4
Mattawan Scoring – (16-13-11-3 – 43)
BJ Saunders – 12
Nolan Foster – 11
Jadin Mabin – 11
Matt Pelak – 9