GATES MILLS—A run of first-half 3-pointers allowed Hawken to pull away from visiting Kirtland in a 60-52 win on Tuesday.
Trailing 14-10 late in the first quarter, Khalil Suggs drained a 3 as time expired to pull the Hawks to within 14-13 heading into the second. Hawken then added five 3-pointers in the second quarter to take a 38-31 lead into the break.
Kirtland clawed its way back into the game in the second half but the Hawks held on for their second straight win to open the season.
“We had one spurt in the first half where we kind of played to our expectations and our level and then we had to grind it out,” said Hawken coach Josh Nugent. “You kind of know that when you play Kirtland. They’re competitive, they’re tough, they’re football guys and you have to play until three zeroes with them. For our guys, I think it was a huge opportunity to show their grit and their resolve. In the second half, we didn’t have it and that’s a lot of credit to them on that, but we found a way.”
Hawken’s strategy changed a bit in the third quarter.
Instead of kicking the ball outside for the long-range shots, Hawken worked the ball inside and scored more in the paint.
“We had fallen in love with the 3-pointer and to the kids’ credit, they were making shots so you couldn’t really get on them for shooting them but we also wanted to get them to understand those shots aren’t always going to fall and we have to have an attacking mindset,” Nugent said. “The ones we want are if we can get going downhill and spray them out, then we want them. We had to put pressure on the defensive a little bit more than we were, so that was definitely a concerted effort in the second half.”
Hawken led by as many as 11 points before Kirtland made its move and pulled to within 46-43 after the third quarter.
Once again, the Hawks went on a run to push their lead to 50-43 midway through the fourth and held off the Hornets the rest of the way.
“The scouting report said they had a bunch of guys that can knock down shots,” said Kirtland coach Shawn McGregor of the Hawks. “They’re quick and athletic and do a nice job of spacing the floor and they knocked down some big shots to pull away but I’m proud of our kids. They did a great job of fighting back and competing to the end. We’re down a couple of guys and some guys were put in roles they weren’t used to playing so it was a valuable game for us no matter how you look at it.”
Hawken sealed its win by converting on 8-of-12 free throws in the fourth quarter.
“That was huge,” Nugent said. “We missed a couple but we made some key ones late to make it a two-possession game. You can start to breathe a little bit when you get it to two possessions late. Credit to the kids because they put so much time and effort into it and they’re starting to see the results. “
Dominic Johnson led Hawken with 13 points, Edward Ross contributed to the win with 11 and Cooper Jared also scored in double figures with 10 points.
Kirtland also had three players score in double figures as T.J. Green scored a game-high 14 points, Owen Mueller added 11 and Mason Sullivan finished with 10.
“We’re still knocking off some football rust but I thought some guys stepped up,” McGregor said. “Owen Mueller did a nice job and Mason Sullivan had to handle the ball a lot today and he did a good job. T.J. did a great job in the post getting us some easy looks. All credit to Hawken. They’re well-coached and played aggressively and hard throughout the game. They’re deadly. When they get hot from behind the 3-point line, they’re hard to contain.”
Kirtland dropped to 0-2 but the Hornets get right back at it on Saturday when they host Lutheran West.
“We’re a work in progress and we’re just going to keep continuing to improve,” McGregor said. “As we knock off some of the rust and get ready to play in the conference, I think we’ll be in a good spot. It was a valuable game for us. A lot of guys got to play minutes that they haven’t played in the past and put in roles where they had to make plays at the end of the game. It was a good game for us.”