Logan Harpenau and the Niles basketball team hosts Kalamazoo Central tonight in a Big 16 West Division showdown. Tip-off is set for 7:15 p.m. (Daily Star Photo/File)

Archived Story

Niles hosts Giants in showdown

Published 8:38pm Thursday, February 23, 2012

Friday night’s Big 16 Conference West Division showdown between visiting Kalamazoo Central and Niles is more than a battle for a championship.

In fact, tonight’s game could go a long way toward deciding who will be the favorite in the Class A District Basketball Tournament next month.

Niles (16-2) will be looking to beat the Maroon Giants (14-5) for the first time in three years.

Kalamazoo Central is the two-time defending state champions. The Giants have knocked the Vikings out of the state tournament each of the last two years. Both times, Niles finished the year at 15-5.

In the first meeting this season between the two teams, Kalamazoo Central raced out to a 32-20 halftime advantage on its way to an easy 61-44 victory.

Niles did not play well in that game at either end of the court.

“A good start is going to be crucial,” Niles coach Todd Pawielski said. “Kalamazoo Central is too good to spot a 10-point lead. We need to shoot the ball better. We had a tendency to settle for a quick 3-pointer. We have been working really hard on making one more pass and attacking the rim a little more. We have to make sure our guys inside get some touches in the paint.”

Niles will also need to rebound the ball better than they did in the first meeting and try to negate the Giants’ height advantage as much as possible.

In the post, Kalamazoo Central has 6-3 Allie Buchanan, 6-4 Quante Hill and 6-3 Lee Gardner.

“I would be really surprised if we didn’t rebound the last week of the season or so better than we did in that Kalamazoo Central game,” Pawielski said. “We need to do a better job of making contact with them and then going to the ball.”

The veteran Vikings coach also knows that what happens tonight will send a message about the district opener between the two teams.

“We talked to the kids about making one more jump in our improvement to be ready for the tournament,” Pawielski said. “We feel like that jump begins at the defensive end. I would love to bottle up the first half we played against Penn and use that every night.

“We have to make sure we are in the right spots and we have to learn to take a charge in the lane. We want to have a team of 11 guys taking a charge, not one or two. We also want to concentrate on our shot selection.”

Kalamazoo Central will look to guards H’lan Hale and Von Washington III to provide a spark at the offensive end. Hale is averaging around 12 points per game, while Washington, the son of former Niles coach Von Washington, also averages in double figures.

Austin Parks, Myles Busby and Matthew McLaughlin lead the Vikings offensively as they average more than 11 points each.

Tonight’s doubleheader will kick off with the girls game at 5:45 p.m. Niles will be looking to finish the regular season on a high note. The Vikings will take on Gull Lake Monday at Mattawan in the Class A District opener.

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