GWINN - For more than two quarters on Friday night, the Gwinn boys basketball team couldn't find the bottom of the basket - missing layups, short jumpers, mid-range shots and 3-point bombs.
But that all began to change early in the third quarter as the Modeltowners came back from a 16-point deficit to pull out a 63-59 victory over visiting Superior Central.
Gwinn, now 3-2, trailed 31-21 at halftime and 39-23 two minutes into the second half after Cougars senior Matt Verbrigghe converted a short jumper off an inbounds pass.
Gwinn’s Justin Nyquist (24) drives toward the basket as Superior Central’s Bryce Richard attempts to defend during the first quarter in Gwinn on Friday. (Journal photo by Zach Jay)
GHS coach Darren Sinnaeve and several of his star players agreed that a lack of practice during the holidays contributed to some off shooting early.
"We had the snow days last week and with Christmas, we've only had a couple practices the past few weeks," Sinnaeve said. "We haven't been shooting well yet this year, but eventually I knew we'd find somebody who could make it.
"We've got a pretty deep rotation, so I can move a lot of guys in and out and look for the right combination."
The game featured bodies flying all over the place as both teams pushed the pace, but also had good enough defenses to thwart that strategy fairly often.
"Our press finally started getting to them in the second half," said Gwinn senior Derek Reetz, who finished with 14 points, including 7 of 8 free throws in the game's final 64 seconds.
He was one of five Modeltowners whose point production increased significantly from the first half to second, when the team's points doubled from 21 to 42.
Among them were junior Owen DeVooght, who had 11 of his 15 points in the final two quarters, and junior Kylor Skinner with eight of his 10 then.
"We had chances in the first half, but we just didn't finish our shots," DeVooght said. "I'd hate to see what our layup percentage was early in the game."
Verbrigghe led all scorers with 27 points, while fellow senior Bryce Richard added 14.
Richard, a 6-foot-5 first-year varsity player, combined with Verbrigghe to give the Cougars (2-3) a solid inside presence.
"Bryce tweaked his knee about the time they started their comeback," SC coach Herb Jenkins said. "I wanted to make sure he was OK, and we were able to get him back in the game."
But that was enough to swing the momentum in Gwinn's favor, as the 16-point lead was whittled to 10 a few minutes later.
"We got it down to 10, and even though it stayed there for awhile, we never let them build it up again," Sinnaeve said.
It set the stage for a couple quick baskets following Cougar turnovers in the middle of the fourth quarter, beginning a 14-0 run by Gwinn and a 58-53 lead when Reetz hit the first two of his last-minute free throws with 1:04 to go.
SC didn't give up, getting a couple three-point plays on a long-range shot and a traditional basket and a free throw to pull within 60-59 with 37 seconds left.
But another errant shot by the Cougars and 3 of 4 free throws by Reetz in the final 30 seconds sealed the win.
Gwinn won Thursday's JV game over SC, 55-48.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.