HOWARD — The Highland High School boys basketball team came to Howard on Tuesday night on a mission. The Scots took control early and held it for the entire contest as they handed the host East Knox Bulldogs a nasty 69-43 beating.
“This game was real important for us,” said Highland head coach Mike Hoyng. “We have been a little sluggish the past couple of games, so I think this was a great win for us. It does a lot for our mental state and concentration.”
Highland scored the first basket, but East Knox had the early edge as it scored the next five points and grabbed a 5-2 lead. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, that would be the only lead they would hold for the entire night as the Scots started heating up. Highland held the Bulldogs scoreless for the rest of the first quarter and went on a 10-0 run that gave them a 12-5 advantage.
“I think our kids started out with a lot of energy but once Highland started hitting some outside shots it took some of that energy away,” said East Knox head coach Don McDaniel. “We started turning the ball over and maybe not playing hard every possession. It snowballed and we got out of it.”
The second quarter saw Highland put on a clinic and build a huge lead while keeping East Knox from mounting any sort of comeback. Highland cruised through a 23-point quarter while allowing the Bulldogs to score only seven points. The Scots built an insurmountable halftime lead of 35-12.
“I thought on the defensive end, we really got it done,” said Hoyng. “Our kids played great help-side defense and forced them to shoot from the perimeter. We were able to rebound the basketball and push the ball, which allowed our offense to attack the basket and really open up for us.”
After the halftime break, Highland picked right up where it left off in the first half. The team continued to control the pace of the game while forcing East Knox to take long-distance shots. Instead of letting off the gas, Highland kept the action going at full steam and in doing so secured themselves a big-time win.
“The key in getting the lead is not about getting it. It’s about how you maintain that lead,” Hoyng said. “We told our kids at half, they had to come back out with the same intensity that we got the lead with. Sometimes with the lead, you get too relaxed and that is something we wanted to make sure we didn’t do. Our kids did a great job in the second half of not getting relaxed and letting the lead get away.”
Highland was able to rest it’s starters midway through the fourth quarter when it built a 30-point lead at 65-35. East Knox scored a few more baskets, but by then it was far too little too late. Highland came away with the 26-point victory.
The key to the Highland win was the Scot defense’s ability to shut down East Knox’s major scoring threat — junior Luke Branstool. Branstool ended the game with 20 points, but Highland held him in check for the majority of the game while keeping the rest of the East Knox squad from picking up any offensive momentum.
“We did a great job defending tonight,” said Hoyng. “We made it very hard on Luke Branstool all night. We made it tough for him to get the ball and tough for him to get started. If we can defend like that, we can be pretty good sometimes.”
Highland was led by Justin Howard, who scored 17 points, while Zach Hilborn was right behind with 16 points of his own.
The loss was tough for East Knox to take, but the Bulldogs held their heads high as they walked off the court. McDaniel knew his kids had played as hard as they were capable of and had nothing to be ashamed of.
“I believe in the kids,” McDaniel said. “I know we can compete with any team in our league and I am trying to get the kids to believe we can play with anyone in our district. I have told the kids, regardless of the outcome, make sure you come in after the game is over and be satisfied with the effort you gave. We don’t quit; I am very proud of them.”
Highland is back in action on Friday, traveling to Northmor. East Knox also plays Friday, hosting Fredericktown. Both games begin at 6 p.m.