WATERLOO — Swish. Swish. Swish.
Everything Waverly-Shell Rock shot early Tuesday found the bottom of the net.
When Waterloo East took away those open looks, the Trojans’ fortunes turned for the better.
Trailing by as many as 16 points in the first half, a tenacious defensive effort by East helped the Trojans rally for a 66-62 victory over the Go-Hawks in the season-opener for both squads at Fred J. Miller Gymnasium.
“They made nine 3s in the first half,” East coach Steve McGraw said. “I thought defensively in the first half we weren’t terrible, they were just shooting lights out. You don’t expect them to continue that. They made one 3 in the second half. Part of it was us, part of it was them.”
W-SR connected on its first seven shots of the game, including two 3-pointers by Trey Angel, one from Ethan Reichert and one from Hogan Hansen. The Go-Hawks continued their torrid shooting the entire first quarter as they connected on 10 of 12 shots and led 28-15 after the opening eight minutes.
That lead ballooned to 35-19 after an Angel driving lay-up with 5 minutes, 9 seconds left to halftime.
As East stopped settling for long-range shots and began driving to the basket, the Go-Hawks’ lead began to dwindle.
“They got hot, 9 of 11 on 3-point shots in the first half, that’s almost impossible, and we really couldn’t do anything about that,” said East senior Tyrese Nickelson, who led all scorers with 29 points.
It turned out the Trojans could do something about the Go-Hawks’ 3-point shooting. Contesting everything W-SR attempted, East allowed the Go-Hawks just six field goals in the second half and only one more 3-pointer.
“The second half we wanted to get pressure on the 3-point line and make them drive more, that was our plan,” Nickelson said. “This year, we are a close team. We are all on the same page. In past years, if we got down 17, other teams may have quit.”
Not only did East take away W-SR’s 3-point shooting, the Go-Hawks weren’t able to take advantage of their height advantage. Nebraska football recruit Mosai Newsom and his 6-foot-4 frame turned an ankle in the first quarter and did not play the final three. The Go-Hawks’ other post, Caleb Burks, was in foul trouble most of the night and eventually fouled out.
“I don’t like to lose,” W-SR head coach Nate Steege said. “But I was pretty proud of our guys tonight. We played hard. We did a lot of things well. We didn’t do the things we needed to do down the stretch and finish off the game.
“To come in here and lose our best post player halfway through the first half and have our other post player in foul trouble the whole game, which I thought was our advantage tonight, to bring it down to the wire ... these are the kind of games that make you better.”
East trailed by nine after three quarters, 52-43, but Ramir Scott hit a 3-pointer in the opening seconds of the fourth as the Trojans kept chipping away. East took its first lead since the 7:08 mark of the first quarter when Nickelson converted a traditional three-point play with 1:00 left that made it 63-62.
“That is a good game to have. We were down 15, 17 points a couple of times and we came back,” McGraw said. “We made plays when we had to down the stretch and I’m real proud of them.”
East 66, Waverly-SR 62
WAVERLY-SHELL ROCK (0-1) — Josh Halverson 2-2 0-0 6, Ethan Reichert 4-9 1-2 11, Hogan Hansen 3-12 7-8 15, Trey Angel 5-9 4-5 17, Mosai Newsom 1-2 0-0 2, Kurby Vowels 0-0 0-0 0, Caleb Burks 1-1 0-0 2, Keaton Farmer 1-1 0-0 2, Cade Pruhs 2-3 0-1 4, Ben Heyer 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 20-40 12-16 62.
WATERLOO EAST (1-0) — Tyrese Nickelson 7-20 11-13 29, Ramir Scott 4-6 0-0 10, Tavious Lebeaux 1-3 1-4 3, Trevion Lebeaux 5-5 2-2 12, Ramon Harrington 1-7 5-6 8, Davon Huggins 0-0 0-0 0, Jordan Wise 1-1 2-2 4, Deavonte Woods 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-42 21-27 66.
Waverly-SR 28 15 9 10 — 62
Wat. East 15 18 10 23 — 66
3-point goals — Waverly-Shell Rock 10 (Halverson 2, Reichert 2, Hansen 2, Angel 3, Heyer). East 5 (Nickelson 2, Scott 2, Harrington). Total fouls — Waverly-Shell Rock 22, East, 18. Fouled out — Burks.