SYCAMORE - Many fans filed into the gymnasium at Mohawk High School for the home opener not sure what to expect of this year's Warrior team with a new coach in John Arnold sitting at the head of the bench.
What those fans saw was a team vastly improved from the one that finished 5-16 a season ago, utilizing a fast-paced style to push rival Carey to the limit.
Carey coach C.J. Kin was one person in the gym who did know what to expect from Mohawk. He had his Blue Devils well prepared for the Warriors, and despite not being able put Mohawk away until the final buzzer, Carey was able to leave town with an 80-73 win.
"After the way (Mohawk) had played Wynford last Saturday, we watched the tape and I was impressed with how hard they play. They get after it hard," Kin said. "We knew they'd press, run up and down the floor. We had to be prepared for that. I thought we had chances to blow it open, and once again like last Saturday (against Riverdale), we let teams back in. ... I knew it wasn't going to be an easy game by any means."
The teams spent the early portion of the game running up and down the court with each other, exchanging fast break baskets with Carey holding an 11-10 lead, before embarking on a 11-2 run to end the quarter.
Corbin Blair had nine of his 14 points in the opening stanza so stake Carey to its lead.
Carey 80, Mohawk 73
Carey (2-0, 1-0): Austin Patton 1-0-2; Matthew Holsinger 1-0-2; Bryan Powers 4-3-11; Levi Patrick 0-0-0; Corbin Blair 6-2-14; Justin Meek 5-8-18; Zach Boes 5-0-11; Jared Wentling 8-4-22. Totals 30-17-80.
Mohawk (0-2, 0-1): Gunnar Johnson 1-0-3; Tyler Boyd 0-0-0; Mitch Parker 5-0-11; Drew Loose 10-8-29; Tyler Krupp 2-1-5; Darby Walton 4-0-8; Grant Ekleberry 7-0-17. Totals: 29-9-73.
Carey22161527 - 80
Mohawk12161827 - 73
Field goals: Carey 30-61; Mohawk 29-57
3-point goals: Carey 3-18 (Wentling 2, Boes); Mohawk 6-14 (Ekleberry 3, Loose, Parker, Johnson)
Foul shots: Carey 17-29; Mohawk 9-16
Rebounds: Carey 34 (Boes 12, Blair 6); Mohawk 33 (Walton 8, Loose 7, Krupp 7)
Turnovers: Carey 10; Mohawk 18
The lead remained 10 at the half, 38-28, before Mohawk rallied in the third quarter to take the lead.
"I can't complain about the effort. I think everyone in the crowd saw that we're going to fight," said Arnold. "I said it last week, I'm going to say it again. We're a new team; we're learning each other. I think they finally got it; I finally understood them in the third quarter. Now we just need to learn how to play that way for four quarters.
"We want to run the floor; we want to pressure teams. We haven't really been able to pressure teams as much as we'd like so far this year. Partially to our own doing. But we're going to get back and going to get after it. Can't fault the kids at all on the effort side. They really gave everything they had tonight."
The Warriors opened the third quarter on a 16-5 run, taking the lead with 1:48 left in the period.
Grant Ekleberry missed a foul shot, but teammate Tyler Krupp pulled down an offensive rebound, fed it back to Ekleberry who layed it in for a 44-43 Mohawk edge, its first since holding an early 8-7 lead.
For Arnold, the change in the third was evident from the look on his players' faces.
"These kids, they do a lot on momentum," Arnold said. "That's why we want to get them going. ... At halftime we talked about smiling. That may sound weird from a coach, but when they smile, when they have fun, they really feed off each others energy. So when we get effort and we get something going, it's hard to stop us."
Unfortunately for Mohawk, it was hard for the Warriors to stop Carey's super sophomores.
Bryan Powers hit back-to-back baskets to return the lead to Carey, then Jared Wentling scored the final six points of the quarter, including a 3-pointer and a steal and layup that beat the buzzer to push Carey's advantage to seven, 53-46 heading into the fourth.
"I was getting kind of mad at the end," Wentling said of his feelings once Mohawk jumped in front. "I felt I needed to help my team, help bring us back; help my teammates out and make good passes.
"Coach told me to run the floor and get the ball, help my teammates out and get them in position."
"They make a big run there in the third quarter to tie it. We just turned around, we made some big plays at the other end," Kin said. "I thought once again the sophomores stepped up really well. I know Jared had a big game, hit some tough shots."
After seeing his team rally to take the lead, Arnold said Carey's late run, especially Wentling's buzzer beater, took all the momentum away from his team.
"That took a lot of wind out of our sails, there's not question about that," he said. "We can't let that happen, though. They got a steal with three-and-a-half seconds to go, they got to the other end and scored. That can't happen.
Wentling's 22 points led the Blue Devils (2-0, 1-0 Midland Athletic League).
"He knows his job is as soon as the ball goes in or we get a turnover, he runs," Kin said. "It's so nice to have a kid like that, that works that hard. His little spurt, though, was huge. They'd just made that run to tie it, we were able to get a seven-point lead going into the fourth quarter, which put a little less pressure on us."
Justin Meek chipped in 18, including 10 in the fourth quarter as Carey held off one final Mohawk charge. Zach Boes, another sophomore, tallied a double-double for the Blue Devils, scoring 11 and pulling down 12 rebounds.
Drew Loose did everything he could in the final period to keep his team in the game. The Warrior senior scored 19 of his game-high 29 in the final period. Grant Ekleberry, who poured in 17 points, knocked down a pair of 3-pointers, but Mohawk (0-2, 0-1) couldn't get any closer than seven.