HARVEY | On a day when 12 teams took the floor at Thornton, Troy Jackson wrote a simple, albeit legitimate, question on the board in the locker room before the game.
“Where is my team?” it read.
The host Wildcats bounced back from some early season ups and downs, including losses in winnable games, and played to expectations Sunday night as they dispatched Hillcrest 79-67 in the finale of the six-game Thornton Shootout.
Jamani Pierce and Justin Taylor combined for 43 points in the win, which brought Thornton’s record up to 3-3.
“I’m looking for my team, and my team finally showed up,” Jackson said. “We hadn’t been playing like my team. This was a big win. We needed it for our psyche.”
A Tuesday game with Andrew precedes the Big Dipper tournament, and the Wildcats like where they’re at heading into the pending holiday break.
“This is a turning point,” Taylor said. “This is where we get on our roll right now. This is what we prepared for.”
The all-points bulletin on the “real Wildcats” included a call for a fast start and some resiliency. Both of those were located Sunday night.
The Wildcats led 26-11 early in the second quarter before Hillcrest pushed itself back into the game late in the second quarter and tied it in the third quarter. The old, fake Wildcats might have folded and let indecisiveness under the basket, fouls and turnovers derail them.
However, the real ‘Cats emerged and put the game back out of reach in the waning moments of the third.
After Hillcrest’s DeAngelo Isby knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the game at 36 with about six minutes left in the third, Leslie Wilson, a junior inserted into the starting lineup for the first time in a shake-up move, hit the go-ahead layup with 5:10 to go in the period. Wilson finished with 13 points and four assists.
While Thornton handled the adversity, Hillcrest (4-4) couldn’t handle prosperity. After the game became tied, the biggest player on the court, 6-foot-8 Hawks center Taylor Adway, botched a breakaway dunk, and the Hawks missed their next two shots, both 3-point attempts.
Pierce, who led all scorers with 22 points, converted a three-point play during Hillcrest’s self-destructive span as the Thornton lead swelled to seven. The teams traded baskets until D’Quan Applewhite’s buzzer-beating 3 at the end of the third put the Wildcats comfortably ahead by 10.
“We played like a team and played hard on defense,” Pierce said. “We let up a little bit in the second quarter but finished hard.”
Taylor, who scored Thornton’s first seven points on the way to 21, had an emphatic dunk with 5:20 to go in the game to put Thornton up 15.
“We’ve been losing too many games we shouldn’t have lost,” Taylor said. “In my mind we should be much better. We really wanted to get this win to be able to come back into school on a Monday morning at .500.”