GARY | With 10 days between games, West Side had time to read and re-stoke the internet trash talk leading up to its showdown game featuring the last two traditional public high schools in Gary.
“This is a big rivalry, a huge rivalry,” West Side junior Arnold Wilson said. “The social networks were bumping this week. We had to come to Glen Park and show them we could win at their place.”
The Cougars rallied in the second quarter and then sunk free throw after free throw to withstand furious comeback attempts from Lew Wallace and upended the host Times No. 9 Hornets 68-63 in the Northwestern Conference opener for both teams, who’ve now split their last eight meetings.
“It was never over,” Wilson said. “It just always felt like we had to keep pushing. Runs can come at any time from anywhere.”
West Side (6-5, 1-0) led by as many as nine in the fourth quarter, thanks to seven consecutive free throws by senior Denzel Casson, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds.
“My veterans came through for me tonight,” West Side coach Murray Richards said. “(Casson's) been struggling with free throws, but lately we’ve been making them hit 50 a day.”
West Side hit 10 of 12 foul shots in the fourth quarter and finished 21-for-30 on the night.
Wilson led all scorers with 17 points and 12 rebounds, and senior teammate Jare Glover overcame a recent wrist injury to net 10, all in the first half, before fouling out with 3:54 to go in the game.
Wallace’s leading scorer, Charles Cooper, paced the Hornets (8-6, 0-1) with 16 points, eight rebounds and four steals. However, he had two charging violations in the second quarter and was hit with a fourth foul in the first two minutes of the second half.
Forced outside, the Hornets oscillated between hot and cold from 3-point range. Subsequently Wallace’s 20-11 first-quarter lead dissipated into a 31-28 halftime deficit.
Glover’s 3 with 2:25 to play in the second quarter broke a 24-all tie and put the Cougars ahead for the rest of the game. The lead never reached more than 10.
A pair of three-point plays by Trevon Boddie (14 points) kept Wallace close, and Richard Wash went from not playing in the first half to hitting for 10 points, including a pair of 3s, in the second half.
West Side's KiJuan Tipton made his seven points count emphatically. He tip-dunked leading off the third-quarter scoring, and his tomahawk dunk off a press-breaker play put West Side up five with 5:17 to play in the game.
Wallace cut the lead to 54-52 but proceeded to miss a 35-foot 3-point attempt, go over and back, brick a pull-up on a fast break and miss the front end of a 1-and-1 on consecutive possessions as West Side pulled away.
“They’re always going to press, press, press,” Richards said. “They’re going to keep pressing because they don’t give up.
“This was a big win for us. We needed this.”