By JAMIE BAKER
TOLEDO — Findlay coach Jim Rucki’s plan was to keep Toledo Whitmer star Nigel Hayes from beating the Trojans in the paint.
Trouble is, Hayes showed he can play the perimeter too.
Hayes keyed a big second-quarter spurt to lift the Panthers to a 54-44 win over Findlay in the Trojans’ Three Rivers Athletic Conference boys basketball opener Friday night.
After a nine-day layoff, Findlay (1-2 overall, 0-1 TRAC) was rested and at full strength with junior guard Adam Twining back in the lineup for the first time this season.
Whitmer (2-1, 1-0), meanwhile, had a short two-day turnaround after being beaten soundly 60-37 by Toledo St. John’s on Wednesday.
And early on, the Trojans had the upper hand jumping out to a 12-8 at the end of the first quarter thanks to the return of Twining and solid play from 6-foot-3 junior Austin Gutting.
“I thought we played tremendous defense in the first half. They kept shooting jumpers. We wanted them to shoot over top of us and we didn’t want to give them any easy shots. We did that,” Rucki said.
But Hayes, a 6-7, 240-pound forward who is headed to play for Wisconsin next year, stepped up by stepping out in the second quarter.
Hayes, who finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, gave the Trojans a taste of what was to come at the end of the first quarter when he hit a 3-pointer with 1:45 left in the period.
Hayes continued to have a the 3-point touch in the second quarter, hitting three treys to put the Panthers on top for good as Whitmer finished with a 23-12 edge over the Trojans in the second quarter.
“We were down because he hit four threes. You ask anybody anywhere if there’s a weakness in his game and they’ll say its shooting threes and shooting from the perimeter,” Rucki said.
“Given the alternative, we weren’t disappointed that he was pulling up and taking those shots. And when he makes those shots, you’re going to get beat.”
Chris Parker also added a trey in the second quarter for the Panthers and those bombs were just what Whitmer needed to get back in the flow.
“You look like a great coach when you’re best player makes threes. That certainly helps,” said Whitmer coach Bruce Smith.
“We got off to a slow start and that is the understatement of the year. I don’t want to make any excuses though because I thought Findlay played really well tonight.
“We saw them against Bowling Green, and they weren’t the team that night that they were tonight.
We knew they are a good team so when we struggled early it really wasn’t a surprise,” Smith added.
Twining and Gutting kept the Trojans in it in the second half.
Twining, who finished with 13 points, scored Findlay’s first two baskets in the third quarter. Gutting, who had a team-high 17 points with eight rebounds, added two more inside buckets as Findlay shaved Whitmer’s lead to 35-32 with 4:08 left in the third quarter.
But even with Hayes taking a backseat offensively because he had four fouls, Whitmer stepped on the gas the rest of the quarter going on a 9-0 run to extend its lead to 44-32 at the break.
The Trojans’ were still dogging Hayes on defense but they left a few other openings that Whitmer was able to exploit.
“In the second half we guarded them the same way. But we got worse in a few other ways on defense and I think we just ran out of gas,” Rucki said.
“When we doubled on ball screens, we weren’t as quick in the second half. They beat us on passes and beat us to the basket.
“We also had some unforced turnovers and that’s been our bugaboo and we just have to get better handling the ball late in the game.”
Gutting scored eight of his points in the fourth quarter but Hayes finally took charge inside with a pair of key put-backs as Findlay never got any closer than six points to Whitmer the rest of the way.
Michael Clark netted eight points and Joseph Davidson grabbed six rebounds for the Trojans.
Chris Parker and University of Findlay recruit Ricardo Smith both scored 10 points for the Panthers.
Despite the loss, Rucki knows the effort wasn’t lacking from his team and he thinks Friday night’s defeat was something the Trojans can build on.
“I wasn’t sure how we’d perform against the big boys so to speak and I like a lot of what I saw,” Rucki said. “We still have to get better but we have the guys to do it.”
Findlay’s junior varsity team scored the final five points of the game to pull out a 36-31 win over the Panthers.
Trey Buford’s layup with 40 seconds left in the game put the Trojans up 33-31. Chase Miller added a fast-break layup with 30.7 seconds left and added a free throw to ice it with 6.2 seconds remaining.
FINDLAY (1-2, 0-1)
Haynes 0-0—0, Miller 1-0—3, Niswander 0-0—0, Clark 3-1—8, Twining 6-0—13, Davidson 0-3—3, Gutting 7-3—17, Gobrecht 0-0—0, Kairys 0-0—0. TOTALS: 18-42 7-10—44.
TOLEDO WHITMER (2-1, 1-0)
Hickey 3-0—7, Parker 4-0—10, Smith 3-4—10, Frisch 1-0—2, Boykin 0-0—0, Ashe 2-0—4, Hayes 7-3—21, Elliott 0-0—0. Holley 0-0—0.TOTALS: 20-43 7-14—54.
Findlay 12 12 8 12 — 44
Toledo Whitmer 8 23 13 10 — 54
3-POINT GOALS: Toledo Whitmer 7-16 (Hayes 4, Parker 2, Hickey); Findlay 4-10 (Clark 2, Miller & Twining).
REBOUNDS: Findlay 31 (Gutting 8, Davidson 6); Toledo Whitmer 21 (Hayes 10).
TURNOVERS: Findlay 15, Toledo Whitmer 7.