As the season progresses, any basketball team that gets a winning streak going has to wonder, “Just how good are we — really?”
The Wayland boys got another promising answer Tuesday evening with a convincing 69-51 victory over Otsego, which came here ranked No. 7 in the latest Class B state poll. The Bulldogs, who featured a 7-foot center in Seth Dugan, had a 5-1 record, also had reached the state quarterfinals last March and had already beaten Stevensville Lakeshore, the team that beat them in last year’s tourney.
The Wildcats, now 6-0 for the season, who had been idle for 17 days after the Cornerstone Holiday Tournament championship, indeed looked really rusty and tentative in the first five minutes of the ballgame. They failed to make a single basket and trailed 12-0 until the 2:52 mark of the first period when sophomore forward Zac Nieuwkoop scored on a layup off an in-bounds pass from Mike Kelly.
Then came Dugan drawing his second foul and a seat on the bench and a furious rally, led by 6-9 senior pivot Lacey James, who scored 14 points in less than a quarter and a half of play. With its 7-footer, Otsego didn’t seem to be able to cope with James’ inside moves.
Trailing 14-10 at the end of the first stanza, the ‘Cats took the lead for the first time just two minutes later, 16-14, when James scored inside, again on a pass from Kelly, and they never trailed again the rest of the evening.
Senior point guard Dilon Aten started to heat up and by the time intermission arrived, the visiting Bulldogs were looking at a 33-27 deficit. Wayland had outscored its opponent 33-15 in the last 11 minutes of the first half.
Otsego opened the third quarter by cutting the deficit to just four points, but sophomore Avery Hudson, once again the smallest guy on the floor, swished an NBA three-pointer, Aten followed with a three and James laid the ball in with a finger roll and hit a free throw to put the Wildcats up by a dozen points.
Deadly three-point shooting by guards Soloman Barwegen and A.J. Atwater helped bring the Bulldogs a close as four points, 49-45, but that was as tight as it would get. Wayland gradually pulled away the rest of the way, led by free throw and outside shooting from Hudson and Aten and several key inside baskets by Nieuwkoop.
Barwegen and Atwater both finished with 14 points. Dugan, hampered by limited playing time,had just seven points and was effectively bottled up by a swarming and pesky defense.
James finished his evening’s work with 21 points. Aten collected 15, Hudson 14 and Nieuwkoop 10.
Wayland will take its 6-0 overall record to Middleville Thornapple Kellogg Friday evening to open O-K Gold Conference play. TK is the surprise team of the season thus far.
The Wildcats will play next Tuesday at Ottawa Hills in a makeup of the Jan. 9 snowout.