By JOSH RIZZO
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
Paxton Harmon had to be careful.
The 6-foot-4 senior forward on the West Hancock boys basketball team picked up his fourth foul early in the fourth quarter, and the Titans needed him on the floor Friday night if they were going to beat Quincy Notre Dame.
It was a game Harmon wanted, especially after he had to sit and watch with an ankle injury as the Raiders beat West Hancock 59-20 on Nov. 24.
Harmon avoided picking up a fifth foul and scored eight of his game-high 20 points -- including the go-ahead bucket with 2 minutes, 11 seconds remaining -- in the fourth quarter to give the Titans a 45-39 win at The Pit.
"I knew I couldn't be aggressive. I knew I couldn't take a charge," Harmon said. "It didn't affect me much offensively. It did defensively. My teammates did a great job of flooding over on the help side (on defense)."
Titans coach Reno Pinkston urged his team to be aggressive and forget about the previous game against QND.
"We said, ‘Fellas, let's have all kinds of fun tomorrow night,' at practice (Thursday)," Pinkston said. "All the pressure was on them. We lost by 39 last time, and I know Paxton was coming back, but you have to be ultra-aggressive and can't be tentative at all. If you're tentative at QND, they're going to eat you up. We had to attack, attack, attack and I thought we did that."
QND (15-5) had built its largest lead of the game thanks in part to a technical foul on Pinkston. After a foul on the Titans' Ben Sinele when Sinele got tied up with Alex Fitch, Pinkston was given a technical for arguing the call. That came in the midst of a 10-1 QND run, after which it led 33-27 with 6:53 left in the fourth quarter.
"That was kind of a risk," Pinkston said. "I was upset. I wanted to make sure I didn't get a second one. If you're going to get a technical foul, you want to get it when the other team has the ball."
Although it appeared QND had firm footing, the sequence might have motivated the Titans (17-5).
"It really motivated us because we knew our coach had our backs," Harmon said. "He knew were weren't making fouls. He motivated us and fired us all up. It gave us a lot of energy, actually."
The Titans regained control by attacking the basket.
West Hancock compiled a 7-0 run on two free throws from Parker Gibbs, a 3-pointer from Austin Hardy and two free throws from Sinele that put the Titans ahead 34-33 with 5:42 remaining. West Hancock shot 11 of 13 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, the Raiders' offense sputtered. QND shot 12 of 43 from the field and couldn't seem to find baskets late.
"We couldn't get into a rhythm on offense and paid for it dearly," said senior Matt Doane, who scored six points and made his first career start in place of Sam Douglas, who sat out with a leg injury. "We need to having scoring all around the board, and we didn't necessarily have that tonight."
QND coach Scott Douglas wasn't sure why the Raiders were so stagnant offensively, but he said it had a lot to do with West Hancock's defense.
"I know we played the game where I felt like we didn't have any rhythm," Douglas said. "That's a testament to them. They did some different things to keep our guys off-balance. ... They guarded us different at different times and used different guys to play our guys based on what we did. I felt like our guys never really had a rhythm tonight and never had a good feel for how the game was being played. That's why we looked sluggish."
After the two teams traded baskets, Harmon put the Titans ahead for good on a jumper. After Gibbs made two free throws, Fitch, who finished with a team-high 15 points, scored on an assist from Nick Dietrich to cut the deficit to 40-39 with 33.4 seconds remaining.
Gibbs finished with 10 points.
Harmon made two free throws to push the lead to 42-39, and on the next QND possession, a Fitch jumper rattled out. West Hancock grabbed the rebound and later made three more free throws to seal the win.