Davenport West’s Brett Erwin doesn’t understand it.
The 6-foot-8 center said free throws fall easily for him in practice. But he entered Tuesday’s game at Davenport North hitting just 58.8 percent of his attempts. And Erwin made just three of his first seven free throws in Tuesday’s contest.
But Erwin calmly sank all four of his foul shots in the final minute of the Mississippi Athletic Conference game, helping West seal a 67-63 win over the Wildcats.
“Obviously I’ve struggled this year, but I just tried to put that behind me,” said Erwin, who scored a game-high 23 points. “I’m about a 60 percent free-throw shooter in games, but in practice I’m about 75 or 80. I have a log going every day in practice. It’s confusing and it’s frustrating, but down the stretch I was just trying to stay focused and thinking about keeping my follow through straight.
"I went up with confidence and knocked them down.”
Tuesday’s game was nothing like a Falcon practice. The game was played at a frenetic pace and had the feel of a postseason tilt.
“We played a playoff game here last year, and it was the same type of atmosphere,” Erwin said. “All of the fans were here. It was great to come out with a win.”
For the second time this season, Erwin had a big game against the Wildcats. After scoring a career-high 28 points in West’s 76-63 win over North at home on Dec. 22, Erwin scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half on Tuesday night.
“These guys are probably our biggest rival, and I always really want them, so I might bring a little bit of an extra edge with these guys,” said Erwin, who also grabbed nine rebounds.
West (12-6, 9-6 MAC) had struggled in the third quarters of its last two games — losses to Pleasant Valley and North Scott — scoring a total of eight points in those frames. But the Falcons closed the third quarter of Tuesday’s game with a 12-2 run to take a 51-42 lead into the final period.
“There’s been quite a few games this year, actually, where that third quarter we come out kind of flat. I don’t know what it is about it,” Erwin said. “With these guys being big rivals, it was nice to finally bring out that extra edge and push in the third quarter instead of coming out flat.”
North (12-6, 9-6 MAC) trimmed the lead to three when V.J. Wilmington hit a corner 3-pointer with 2:18 left in the game. The Wildcats had a chance to get even closer, but Erwin blocked Keenan Hollingshed and then scored on a lob from Kenny Clay on the other end.
Wilmington scored twice to cut the lead to three in the final minute, but Erwin answered by sinking a pair of free throws each time. The Wildcats, meanwhile, went just 4-for-8 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.
“Free throws really hurt us,” North head coach Joe Ewen said. “There were some times where we could have tied it up. I think we shot just over 50 percent. I just thought they were tougher than us tonight. They just made enough plays down the stretch to get us.”
Trey Sampson came off the West bench and had 13 points and 12 rebounds. Bailey Garnica hit four 3-pointers and scored a career-high 12 points. And Clay had 11 assists to go with six points.
Lacey Watson had a season-high 17 points to lead North and he also pulled down nine rebounds. Wilmington finished with 16 points and Max Taylor had 10.
Keenan Hollingshed hit a 3-pointer with 3:18 left in the first half to push the Wildcats’ lead to 12. But West finished the first half with a 9-0 run, capped by Sampson’s second dunk of the game, to trim the lead to three at the break.
“We never got away from our game plan,” West head coach Mark Bigler said. “Against North Scott, we made a run like that in the second quarter to get within three at half, and we didn’t stay with our game plan. Tonight we stayed with our game plan and good things happened for us. We played to our strengths and we kept our poise. When you do those kinds of things, you’re going to have good results.”