Whenever Kirkwood and Indian Hills get together, it’s a battle the end.
And by the end on Saturday night, Gary Williams, Jr. was the one standing tall proudly wearing the wounds of a battle he helped the Warriors close out.
The Oakland native finished off his best night of his young collegiate career by finishing off the seventh-ranked (DII) Eagles at the charity stripe. Two free throws with 1.8 seconds left capped a 16-point night for Williams, Jr. and capped fifth-ranked (DI) IHCC’s thrilling 94-89 win over Kirkwood to finish off the Jack Blackwell Classic on Saturday night at the Hellyer Student Life Center.
“I’ve got a couple scratches on my face, but it’s all good,” Williams, Jr. said after being cut by an incidental strike to the face in the face. “It was a tough game. Kirkwood’s full of good players, but me and my teammates played together. I got in the zone and I’m always thankful every time those free throws go in.”
Timing was not ideal for Williams, Jr. to suffer those scratches, which forced the freshman to leave the contest for the wounds to be attended. With the game becoming a tight affair in the final 10 minutes and several other teammates dealing with foul difficulty, the depth of the Warriors was put to an early-season test.
“Gary gave us a fantastic spark in the middle of that second half before he had to sit down, but credit our guys again with battling back,” IHCC head coach Barret Peery said. “We had seven guys score in double figures on (Friday) and five guys in double figures (Saturday). It’s been different guys every time that get opportunities to step up and make big plays for us.”
One of those players who needed to step up to help IHCC pull out their second win of the weekend was freshman Justin Moss, who like Williams, Jr. got his first start of the season on Saturday. Moss battled through early foul difficulty and scored his first seven points of the night in a two-minute stretch with a three-point play and two more baskets helping the Warriors open a late seven-point lead.
“I just felt like my team needed a boost,” Moss said after adding nine rebounds and two blocks on Saturday. “(Kirkwood) started to come back and I felt like I had to take it upon myself to provide us with that spark to get us moving in the right direction again.”
IHCC seemed headed in the right direction most of the night thanks to another newcomer — sophomore transfer Ronald Ross. The former Vincennes star outscored Kirkwood on his own with nine of his game-high 17 points coming in the first 10 minutes of the game to help the Warriors open a 21-7 lead.
Trailing by as many as 16 in the second half, Kirkwood used a 12-2 run to get back within six on J.C. Fuller’s three-point play. The Warriors were able to maintain a 45-38 lead at the half before scoring the first 11 points of the second half to open an 18-point margin.
But just as quickly as IHCC seemed to gain control of the contest, Kirkwood turned things around. The Eagles scored the next 11 points of the half, starting a 28-8 run that gave Kirkwood their first lead of the night at 66-64.
“I think the biggest thing that Kirkwood did was get us in foul trouble,” Peery said. “That really started to hurt our size and our ability to protect the rim. Jameel (McKay) was in trouble. Ronnie Stevens was in foul trouble. We had a hard time protecting the rim like we would want to.”
IHCC refused to let Kirkwood keep the run going as the late stages of the contest became a war of attrition. The final 10 minutes featured five ties, four lead changes and six players fouling out.
“We were forced to adjust. We had to play small,” Peery said. “We lost Ronnie, Richard Amardi and Dustin Hogue to fouls. Jameel and Justin also had to play with four fouls, so we had to be a little more careful.”
Moss and Williams, Jr. both came up huge in the second half for IHCC, scoring 21 of the Warriors’ 49 points after halftime. The two newcomers shined brightly in their first weekend of action on their new home floor of the Hellyer Center.
“With all the returning players on the team, it’s really helpful getting me ready to play here (at Indian Hills),” Williams, Jr. said.
The Warriors late seven-point lead was challenged down the stretch as Kirkwood (1-1) trimmed the lead to one, 90-89, before Ross drained a tough jumper to put IHCC up three in the final minute. The Eagles had two chances to tie the game, but Semier and Kevin Hunter both missed 3-pointers with Hunter’s coming in the dying seconds before Williams, Jr. put the game away at the line.
No. 7 (DI) IHCC (2-0) is back on their home floor next weekend for their second home tournament. The Warriors take on Mid-Michigan on Friday and Paris on Saturday in the Reed Overhead Doors Classic.
No. 5 (DI) Indian Hills 94, No. 7 (DII) Kirkwood 89
Kirkwood (89) — Najeal Young 26, Kasey Semier 24, Devan Douglas 9, J.C. Fuller 7, Kevin Hunter 5, Jalen Currie 4, Gage Heffernan 4, Taylor Olson 4, Derek Witt 4, Mike Lang 2. Totals 30-63 23-31 89.
3-point goals — 6-18 (Semier 4-6, Douglas 1-2, Fuller 1-3, Hunter 0-1, Heffernan 0-2, Lang 0-2, Olson 0-2). Fouled out — Douglas, Fuller, Heffernan. Rebounds — 42 (Fuller 9, Heffernan 7, Hunter 4, Semier 4, Young 4, Currie 3, Douglas 3, Olson 3, Witt 3, Lang 2). Assists — 27 (Olson 6, Semier 6, Heffernan 5, Fuller 4, Hunter 2, Witt 2, Currie, Young). Steals — 8 (Witt 2, Fuller, Hunt, Lang, Olson, Semier, Young). Blocks — 1 (Douglas). Total fouls — 33 (Technicals - Currie). Turnovers — 26.
Indian Hills (94) — Ronald Ross 17, Gary Williams, Jr. 16, Dustin Hogue 14, Jelan Kendrick 11, Jameel McKay 11, Frank Williams 9, Justin Moss 7, Richard Amardi 5, Ronnie Stevens 2, Trinson White 2. Totals 28-75 32-45 94.
3-point goals — 6-22 (Williams 3-8, Ross 2-3, Williams, Jr. 1-3, Hogue 0-1, White 0-3, Kendrick 0-4). Fouled out — Amardi, Hogue, Stevens. Rebounds — 52 (White 11, McKay 9, Moss 9, Hogue 6, Kendrick 6, Ross 3, Williams, Jr. 3, Amardi 2, Stevens 2, Williams). Assists — 25 (Kendrick 9, Williams, Jr. 3, Hogue 2, McKay 2, Ross 2, White 2, Williams 2, Amardi, Moss, Stevens). Steals — 12 (Kendrick 2, McKay 2, Moss 2, Stevens 2, Amardi, Hogue, Williams, Williams, Jr.). Blocks — 9 (McKay 3, Moss 2, Amardi, Hogue, Kendrick, Stevens). Total fouls — 25 (Technicals - Amardi, Stevens). Turnovers — 20.
Half: IHCC 45, Kirkwood 38