KEARNS — Hunter didn’t look like a team that was very interested in seizing control of the Region 2 race throughout a sloppy first half Friday night.
It lacked urgency at both ends of the court in the opening half, perhaps not surprising after approaching the game with the mentality that all the pressure was on underdog Kearns.
The second half was an entirely different story.
Hunter upped the intensity throughout a dominant second half, outscoring Kearns by 18 as it overcame an 11-point deficit en route to the 58-49 road victory.
The win helped Hunter improve to 6-0 in Region 2 as it built a two-game lead on both Kearns and Viewmont with just four games remaining.
“It’s a huge win,” said Hunter coach Dave Filimoehala. “I wish I could say we can take a break, but we can’t ’cause we have a really good Viewmont team coming in. We’ve got to keep grinding away at it.”
That’s exactly what Hunter did on Friday.
At the half, Filimoehala told his players their defensive effort was terrible and challenged them to hunker down and get some stops. He couldn’t have dreamed of a better response.
Down 31-20 early in the third quarter, the Wolverines started to grind away defensively as they turned the double-digit deficit into a 38-35 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Hunter’s defense held Kearns to just one field goal in the third quarter, which included a six-minute drought at one stretch.
“I think our defense the second half was very good,” said Filimoehala, who added that in general Hunter’s defense has been very good in region play.
Hunter’s dominance on the glass was just as important in the decisive third quarter. During one critical possession, the Wolverines grabbed three offensive rebounds, with Lorenzo Dudley turning the last into a three-point play to cut the deficit to 31-25.
On Hunter’s next possession, Noah Togiai converted another three-point play on a driving lay-up to trim the lead to 31-28. Togiai led all scorers with 24 points.
“The thing that makes Noah unique is he’s a big kid and he can take it to the hole," Filimoehala said. "He’s a really unique player,” he added.
Leading 38-35 after the third quarter, Hunter opened the fourth on a 7-0 run to build a 45-35 lead with 6:10 remaining.
Just when it looked like Hunter was poised to run away with the win, Hunter’s Brandon Davies was slapped with a technical foul for arguing with the ref after he was called for a foul — his fourth and fifth fouls of the game.
Kearns capitalized with a five-point possession to cut the lead to 45-40, and without Davies was optimistic about a comeback. It never got any closer though as Hunter slowed the game over the final five minutes and made 11 of 12 free throws to seal the win.
“Our bench is not bad,” said Filimoehala. “(Brandon) is a key player, but we have some other pieces that can fit in.”