By BRANDON SHRIDER
SYCAMORE — Mohawk entered Thursday night’s Northern 10 Conference showdown with one of the league’s best player in Zach Hayman.
But the league’s best team, which has belonged to Upper Sandusky each of the past three seasons, was still up for grabs.
The unbeaten Warriors, though, got clutch plays from Hayman and claimed their spot as the best team in the league at the season’s midpoint with a 59-58 win over the Rams in front of a rowdy, sold-out gym.
“The difference in the game was they have Zach Hayman and we don’t,” Upper coach Jeff Winslow said. “He’s the best player in the league right now. Until someone decides to stop him, they’re going to win every game.
“Easier said than done.”
Hayman, who is second in the N10 with 19.7 points per game, scored a game-high 24.
Mohawk, now 11-0 overall, sits alone atop the N10 standings at 7-0. The Rams fell to 9-3, 6-1 in the league.
“If you want to have a chance to compete for the league title, you got to go through Upper Sandusky. That’s been proven the last couple years,” Mohawk coach Paul Dunn said.
Hayman, who led all scorers with nine points at halftime, hadn’t done so with efficient shooting. More shots rattled out than dropped in and Upper Sandusky was in control leading for more than 11 minutes straight.
Hayman, though, found Kaiden Hammer for one of his two 3-pointers and helped spark an 8-0 run. Brock Brause scored a pair of baskets — the first on a putback and the second with 39 seconds to play in the half — and Hayman took a steal coast-to-coast to put the Warriors ahead 28-22.
Hammer finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“That run definitely gave our guys confidence, because we had zero driving lanes, we weren’t shooting the ball confidence there in the first half,” Dunn said. “That really calmed us down going into halftime.”
Upper’s Brett Montgomery hit a triple just moments before the buzzer sounded to cut the lead to three, but Mohawk opened the second half with another 7-0 run — anchored by a nothing-but-net corner 3 from Hayman — to force Winslow to call a timeout.
“They just played better than us from then on,” Winslow said.
While the Rams never regained the lead after Mohawk’s late first-half run, they never trailed by more than 10 and made their best run of the game in the closing minutes.
Shortly after diving a few rows into the stands for a loose ball, Cameron McCreary, who led Upper with 19 points, brought his team within seven points when he knocked down one of his game-high five 3s. After a quick timeout, he hit another and answered a Mohawk bucket with a third to cut the deficit to 55-52 with 3:46 to play.
“We told the kids at halftime, you saw Upper, they play at that tempo a lot but I don’t know if they play teams that always want to push against them,” Dunn said. “We started to get out and run, I think it almost kind of shook them for a quick second.
“They settled back in though in the second half.”
Mason Vent, who added nine points and nine rebounds, then got a shot to fall and hit the first of two free throws to pull within 57-55 with 1:53 to play.
But Hayman scored 12 of Mohawk’s final 19 points, Chris Klopp scored twice — finishing through contact and converting the foul shot — and Keith Jenkins iced the game with a pair of free throws for his only two points of the game.
“You just can’t let one shot get to you. You just have to keep going after it,” Hayman said. “We had to get our foot back on the gas pedal and get some stops on defense.”
Upper had a plethora of offensive rebounds in the final minute, a handful on the same possession, but none of its follow-up shots fell. Mohawk eventually regained possession and Jenkins stretched the game to two possessions. A McCreary 3 with 2.4 seconds left brought the score to 59-58.
“I don’t know how many chances we had to tie or take the lead on offensive rebounds, in just one possession, and the next possession. And the ball just didn’t fall,” Winslow said. “That’s a great effort and that’s what it’s got to take for four straight quarters.
“We just haven’t found our stride shooting the ball. These kids have shot well their whole life, and just right now, shooting can be like that, it’s kind of contagious.
“A shooter shoots. At some point you gotta start making ’em.”
UPPER SANDUSKY (9-3, 6-1 N10)
McCreary 7-0–19, Clifford 4-1–10, Vent 4-1–9, Montgomery 3-0–9, Young 3-0–6, Malone 2-0–5, Holly 0-0–0, Sowers 0-0–0. TOTALS: 23 2-4 — 58.
MOHAWK (11-0, 7-0 N10)
Hayman 10-2–24, Hammer 5-0–12, Brause 4-0–8, Klopp 3-1–7, Tusing 1-0–3, Gottfried 1-13, Jenkins 0-2–2, Snyder 0-0–0. TOTALS: 24 6-9 — 59.
Upper Sandusky 15 10 15 18 — 58
Mohawk 11 17 18 13 — 59
3-Point GOALS: Upper Sandusky 10 (McCreary 5, Montgomery 3, Malone & Clifford 1); Mohawk 5 (Hayman & Hammer 2, Tusing 1).
rebounds: Upper Sandusky 31 (Vent 9); Mohawk 37 (Hammer 11).
turnovers: Upper Sandusky 10, Mohawk 9.