STERLING — Sterling had too big of a hill to climb in Tuesday’s game against Ottawa, due in large part to Wyatt Hill.
A 5-foot-10 junior guard in his third year as a starter, Hill had a double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Pirates to a 65-57 win against the Golden Warriors here at Musgrove Fieldhouse.
Hill was a perfect 6-for-6 from the free-throw line in the final 1 minute, 23 seconds as the Pirates (4-4, 2-1 NIB-12 West) kept the Golden Warriors (2-5, 1-1) at bay. It was a stark contrast from Ottawa’s first league road game, when it blew an 18-point lead in a loss at Rochelle on Dec. 1.
Hill used the term “road toughness” to describe Tuesday’s win.
“It was one of our keys tonight, playing on the road and being tough,” Hill said. “We haven’t done that too well. We lost our first game in conference at Rochelle, and it was all because we weren’t mentally there. We weren’t even physically there. Tonight, we had our heads on right and got it done.”
Ottawa coach Mark Cooper was also thrilled with a win against a team that is still trying to find itself after an extended football season.
“This is a really good win for us because Sterling is a good basketball team that’s going to win a lot of games,” Cooper said. “I still think they’re probably the top team in our side of the league.”
Ottawa closed the first half on a 12-4 run to tie the game 32-32 at halftime, and also went on a 10-3 run at the end of the third quarter to seize a 47-43 advantage heading into the final eight minutes.
The Pirates’ lead grew to as many as nine points (55-46) after a bucket from Noah Gould with 2:20 to play, and the Golden Warriors were forced to foul the rest of the way in an attempt to catch up.
“We couldn’t get into our offensive sets and we couldn’t get on a run,” Sterling’s Micah Kendrick said, “but most importantly, no matter offense or defense, your defense has to travel. We did not play defense. Credit to Ottawa. They made big plays down the stretch.”
Sean Gingrich led Sterling with 19 points, and he drained 4-of-6 from 3-point range, but attempted just one shot in a fourth quarter in which he left for a key stretch with a leg injury. Kendrick had nine points, Tyler Willman muscled his way to eight points and eight rebounds, and Daniel Pontnack collected a game-high 12 rebounds for the Warriors.
For the Pirates, Hill was backed by Kendall Brent with 14 points, and Myles Tucker chipped in nine. Ottawa was effective in its spread offense late in the game, either burning the Warriors for layups or getting to the line.
“Seven of our eight games have come down to late in the fourth quarter,” Cooper said. “Early in the season, we didn’t understand how to play in fourth quarters to win games. I thought tonight in the second half offensively, we trusted each other a little bit more. When we moved the ball, we were much better.”
At Musgrove Fieldhouse, Sterling
Ottawa 65, Sterling 57
(KEY: FG-FGA FT-FTA TP)
Ottawa (4-4, 2-1) 16 16 15 18 — 65
Sterling (2-5, 1-1) 14 18 11 14 — 57
3-point goals — Ottawa 8 (Hill 3, K.Brent 2, Stevenson 2, Tucker), Sterling 6 (Gingrich 4, Sullivan, Ryan). Rebounds — Ottawa 25 (Hill 11), Sterling 35 (Pontnack 12). Turnovers — Ottawa 9, Sterling 13. Steals — Ottawa 9 (Owens 4), Sterling 5 (Williams 2). Blocks — Ottawa 2, Sterling 1. Total fouls (none fouled out) — Ottawa 10, Sterling 19.