COLUMBIA — A good start carried the Gibault Hawks a long way.
Wes Degener scored 17 points and Nick Row added 13 points as the Hawks led from start to finish in a 51-35 win over the Columbia Eagles on Saturday night.
"It was important for us to get ahead," said Gibault coach Dennis Rueter, whose team jumped out to a 7-0 lead. "When you're a favorite, you don't want the underdog to build up some confidence and maybe put a little bit more pressure on your kids because they think they should win."
The Hawks (12-2) forced six turnovers in the first quarter in taking a 13-5 lead.
"You don't want them to think they are in the game," Degener said. "By getting off to a good start, you can knock their confidence down a little bit. It helps us relax. It takes a little stress off our shoulders and helps us play our game. "It's a little easier to shoot when you are up. When you are down, you kind of pick and choose your shots."
The young Eagles (5-7) kept it close until falling back late in the third quarter.
"This was a poor matchup for us from an athletic and physicality standpoint," Eagles coach Mark Sandstrom said. "I told the kids before the game, you're going to have to handle their pressure. You're going to have to stay calm with it. I don't think we started reacting until the second quarter.
"In the second and third quarter, I thought we were OK. It took us a whole quarter to get calmed down some."
The Eagles committed 19 turnovers in the game, including eight in the third quarter.
"I knew this team would probably pressure us the best out of any team we play," Sandstrom said. "They have a lot of seniors out there running around. We have a lot of sophomores out there running around. That's a big thing because they have been through all the battles and my kids haven't been through the battles."
The Hawks led 21-11 on a fallaway jumper by Row, but the Eagles got within 21-13 by halftine thanks to a rebound basket from Korbin Farmer.
The Eagles drew within seven points after two free throws by Farmer with 5:14 left in the third quarter, but the Hawks closed out the period with a 12-4 run that included a 3 by Zach Neff and a layup from Jared Rueter.
Neff chipped in 10 points for the Hawks.
Trey Search had eight points and Farmer and Zachary Matthews each had six points to lead the Eagles.
Row and Degener handled most of the defensive chores against the 6-foot-5 Farmer, making it difficult for the Eagles to get the ball inside.
"I don't think you can give all the credit to Row and Degener either," Rueter said. "Our pressure on their guards forced them to say, 'You know what, we can't pass it around the perimeter. We have to just start attacking.' Their guards attacked then and had some success."
Poor free-throw shooting haunted the Eagles for the second straight night. They were 2-for-10 from the free-throw line against the Hawks after going 5-for-14 at the line in a 51-46 loss to Central on Friday night.
"Last night, we had an excellent chance to win at Central and we were 3-for-10 at the line in the fourth quarter," Sandstrom said. "We can't continue to miss free throws like we have."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.