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Huskies pull through against Mustangs

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WAKE FOREST - Heritage's boys basketball team got off to a bad start against Middle Creek, but finished strong to win 68-55 at home Monday.

The Huskies trailed 12-2 to open the contest. They managed to cut the deficit to 14-9 by the end of the first quarter. 

Heritage head coach Tilden Brill said coming back from Thanksgiving break was tough on his guys at first. Nevertheless, they found a way to wake up on the court thanks to some buckets from point guard Tre Waller, who scored five of the team's nine points in the first period.

"The guys showed some resiliency to battle back," Brill said. "There's a lot of excuses that we could have had. I thought Tre did a good job hitting some big shots for us to keep it close."

In the second period, Heritage got going offensively. Lucas Taylor led the charge for the Huskies with 14 points in the quarter. However, the Heritage defense allowed 15 points, which gave Middle Creek a 29-26 lead at halftime. 

Heritage didn't take their first lead of night until midway through the third quarter when Taylor made a couple of free throws to give the Huskies a 33-31 edge. The lead changed twice from there, but at the end of the period, the score was tied 39-39.

Heritage opened the fourth quarter with a 10-6 run to take a 49-45 lead. Then after a two-handed slam dunk from Taylor, the Huskies extended their advantage to 53-47.

"When Middle Creek was playing that 2-3 zone, they had a lot of different gaps that I was able to drive in to get the easy buckets," Taylor said. "I gave my teammates the ball and they made the easy basket. That helped a lot."

Waller and Redford Dunton helped out Taylor with the scoring surge in the fourth quarter. The offense spread out, which allowed other guys to step up and make some big shots.

"Redford's mid-range game was big for us in the fourth quarter," Brill said. "He did a good job of taking advantage of the zone defense. The guard play was strong for us tonight. We didn't have any turnovers that cost us the game. We valued the ball and knocked down free throws."

With 26 seconds left, Middle Creek head coach Jeremy Cunningham was ejected from the game for complaining to the referees. From that point on, Heritage cruised to victory by making their free throws to win 68-55.

"In the fourth quarter, we started finishing the possessions with rebounds," Brill said. "That was good to see. We just have to do that on a more consistent basis."

Taylor led Heritage with 26 points, which is his second-highest scoring total in his career. The junior small forward is averaging 23.5 points per game so far this season.

"Lucas attacked the zone instead of settling for outside shots," Brill said. "We got Middle Creek's defense out of rotation once we started attacking the basket. It opened stuff up for the other players. Lucas' ability to finish in the paint helped us tonight."

Dunton was second on the team in scoring with 19 points. The junior also led the squad with nine rebounds. Waller scored 14 points and dished out six assists along with six rebounds.

Heritage was coming off a 75-72 loss at Holly Springs Nov. 26. In the first game of the season, the Huskies allowed 85 points in a 85-67 loss to Millbrook at home. 

Taylor said it was encouraging to see the team hold Middle Creek to 26 points in the second half. He led the team with three steals in the win.

"We picked our energy up on defense in the second half," Taylor said. "We got better with our press. We started flying around the court a lot more. We stayed active. That helped us get going."

The loss at Heritage is Middle Creek's first of the season. As for the Huskies, the win bumps them up to 2-2 overall. It's also their first win at home this year.

In order to improve as a team, Brill said the players need to better job of locking down on defense and grabbing rebounds. Dunton is currently the team's leader in rebounds with 6.5 per game.

"Our defensive mentality has to be better," Brill said. "We have to rebound. We have to play with a high I.Q. on offense. We can't settle for outside shots. If we do those things, we're good to go."

Heritage will play Garner at the Millbrook showcase Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Then they will play at Sanderson Dec. 9 at 7 p.m.

"We have to consistently rebound," Taylor said. "That's the main thing for us. We have to box out. If we play hard and crash the glass, everything else will be fine for us."