A lot of tension built up before Wednesday's basketball showdown between Hammond and Wilde Lake.
Both teams expect to challenge Oakland Mills' three-year reign as league champions. But both the Bears andWildecats stumbled Monday by losing their league openers.
And both had overall losing records when they faced off in what looked like a must-win situation for both squads at Hammond on Wednesday night.
They each allowed the tension to destroy their games in the first half, playing sloppy ball and having trouble with shooting and ball-handling. The two squads looked more like pretenders than contenders.
At halftime, the score was a meager 24-22 in Wilde Lake's favor.
Hammond High principal David Bruzga called for a moment of silence at halftime to honor U.S. soldiers, who had begun fighting in the Persian Gulf about 90 minutes earlier.
The teams finally did come to life offensively in the second half, with Hammond scoring 48 points and taking a tense 70-63 victory that remained in doubt until the final 45 seconds.
"Both teams can play a lot better than this," Hammond coach Jack Burke said. "The first half was the worst we've played all year, but maybe the Gulf crisis was bothering them a bit."
The Bears, state semifinalists the last two years, entered the game still reeling from a league-opening loss to Atholton in which ball-handling was a major problem.
It was also a problem Wednesday. Hammond made 19 turnovers against Wilde Lake, but survived because oftorrid 15-for-24 shooting from the floor in the second half. The Bears had shot only 8-for-22 in the first half.
"Both teams were probably tight after losing their openers and knowing how important it was to win," Burke said. "Nineteen turnovers is actually an improvementfor us."
Wilde Lake, which also made 19 turnovers, made three in the first 90 seconds, allowing Hammond to roll to a 9-2 lead.
PhilChenier scored two baskets at the end of the period, leaving the score in Hammond's favor, 13-9.
The Wildecats also scored the first five points of the second quarter for a nine-point run to go up 14-13.
A six-point run by Wilde Lake at the end of the second quarter put the 'Cats on top at halftime, 24-22. Wilde Lake hit their final five shots before halftime after a horrendous 4-for-15 start.
That they were ahead despite making 13 turnovers in the first half was amazing. Hammond's poor ball-handling helped. The Bears made nine turnovers in the first half.
"We were worried about slowing them down, butthey came out in a half-court game and tried to slow us down," Burkesaid.
Hammond (4-5 overall, 1-1 league) averaged 81.6 points in its non-league games, and that prolific offense obviously worried 'Cats coach Paul Ellis.
But Hammond's Kyle Jefferson, who led all scorers with 26 points and shot 10-for-12 at the foul line, also was amazed that Wilde Lake didn't run.
"I thought it would be an up-and-down game and they would run with their quickness," Jefferson said. "The difference finally was that we made our free throws."
Wilde Lakeshot only 10-for-21 at the foul line. Hammond was 22-for-30.
Jefferson, who is averaging 22 points per game, sank eight free throws inthe fourth quarter and scored eight points during the third quarter.He's one of the league's premier players and Wilde Lake failed to stop him.
The Wildecats also failed to get a really big offensive night from anyone. Ricky Miller led the team with 15 points and Joe Guyton had 11. George Bradford came off the bench with 10.
Guyton's jumper from the foul line with 45 seconds left cut what had once been a 63-51 fourth-quarter Hammond lead to two, 65-63.
Guyton also scored off a steal and hit a three-pointer during Wilde Lake's late comeback.
Bradford hit a three-pointer and Matt Nesbitt sank two free throws during that comeback in which Wilde Lake outscored Hammond, 12-2.
Jefferson's younger brother, Chris, hit two big free throws toput Hammond ahead, 67-63, after Hammond had missed the front end of two one-and-ones.
After Guyton forced a bad shot that went only about 10 feet, halfway to the hoop, Hammond came back with two more free throws by Adam Walker (14 points) to pull ahead, 69-63, with 21 seconds left.
A free throw by Kyle Jefferson with eight seconds left made it 70-63. Wilde Lake went scoreless in the final 45 seconds, missing its final five shots and finishing the night shooting 24-for-53 from the floor.
Wilde Lake's shooting was hot and cold but finished up cold. The 'Cats missed seven of their last eight shots.
The 'Cats shot a lowly 7-for-22 in the fourth quarter after a hot 8-for-11third quarter. During a stretch at the end of the second quarter andthe beginning of the third quarter, Wilde Lake shot 11-for-13 from the floor. That meant they were only 13-for-40 the rest of the game.
Two Wilde Lake starters, Chenier and Adam Tyer (six points) fouled out near the end of the game.
"It was a very physical game," Burkesaid.