By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
Four minutes into Friday’s game, Cody Apthorpe was seeing the same style of basketball that led his Bombers to back-to-back double-digit losses to Bristol and Southeast in the team’s last two games.
He had seen enough.
He called his second timeout of the first quarter in an attempt to redirect a script that already had Grand Valley leading 15-4.
“We had to come to an agreement as a team that the way we were playing was not going to work,” Apthorpe said. “From that point forward, we needed to all agree to move the ball and get organized on offense.”
Immediately, the Bombers began looking more like the Bombers.
Ball movement. Player movement. Active defense.
And, eventually, a hard-earned victory, 51-50, over the Mustangs on Marty Hill Court.
“The way our last two games have gone, it was important for us to get some momentum tonight to boost morale and rebuild our confidence. The last two games, things unraveled quickly on us. Honestly, tonight, we teetered on that again in the first quarter, but I am very proud of our overall poise to get back into the game, then to play as tough as we did down the stretch to pull out the win.”
Trailing 15-4 at the first quarter’s 2:26 mark, the Bombers came out of Apthorpe’s timeout and began a 13-2 run that closed the first quarter and carried into the second quarter.
It sparked a 22-point second quarter for Windham (4-2, 4-1 Northeastern Athletic Conference) that included a 28-21 lead for the Bombers on an acrobatic finish by junior Carlos Bruton in transition with 1 minute to play before halftime.
On the play, Bruton started on the right side of the key with three Grand Valley defenders back, stepped and dipped through a pair of defensive players, then elevated toward the left side of the key and flipped the ball into the hoop with his left hand before landing.
It was one of a couple nice finishes at the rim for Bruton during the run, while senior Jake Collins had a couple of strong plays in the post following nice passes from Nick Hopper and Brandon Petrich.
Windham posted its largest lead of the game with a 31-22 halftime advantage.
The Mustangs (1-5, 1-3 NAC) outscored Windham 28-20 in the second half and rallied to a 50-47 victory with 1:50 to play when Braden Hart ripped a steal near midcourt and raced to the other end for a layup as he was fouled. He hit the and-one free throw to give the Mustangs the lead.
Windham found its answers, though.
First, Bruton attacked from the right wing and sliced through the Mustangs’ defense for a layup he softball laid off the glass to cut the deficit to 50-49.
Hopper then put Windham back on top, 51-50 with 45.6 seconds remaining, with a layup of his own as he was fouled, but he missed the bonus free throw.
Grand Valley followed with a timeout, but Windham forced a turnover to regain possession.
Windham then missed a 3-pointer that Anthony Wiley chased down for the offensive rebound with 17.2 seconds left.
The Bombers then missed two free throws, with the second miss landing in the right corner of the court and both teams failing to corral the bouncing ball. Eventually, Grand Valley did with 10.4 seconds to play and called timeout.
Needing to go the length of the floor and out of timeouts, the Mustangs raced the ball up the court, made a couple of passes, but very nearly did not get a shot off before the buzzer, but a Mustangs player did release a deep desperation 3 from the right wing that hit the top of the backboard to secure the Bombers’ victory.
“I am proud of our guys,” Apthorpe said. “With the way things started tonight, the game very easily could have gone south for us. But they bought in and realized that the way we have been playing, not moving the ball on offense and trying to dribble through people, is not a style that works. Once we changed our style, things changed for us.”
Bruton led the Bombers on offense with 19 points, and he also had four steals. He was also one of six Windham players to pull down six rebounds, including Petrich and Collins.
Collins also reached double figures with 11 points.
Hopper played a solid all-around game and finished with nine points, four rebounds and four assists.
The Mustangs’ leading scorer was Hart, who had 20 points, while Jerry Schultz had 11 points and 11 rebounds.