Anthony Odoardi , Livingston Daily
SOUTH LYON — It’s do or die now for the Livingston County boys basketball teams, and that fact was not lost on the Hartland boys Monday night. In fact, head coach Kevin Blouin said it was at the forefront of their minds, something he believed hindered his team in the first half of Hartland’s district opener against South Lyon East.
“We could have played better in the first. I just think we were a little nervous, and it showed,” Blouin said. “It was pretty tight. … But we were able to get everybody calmed down at the halftime, and just reassured them that we needed to play our style of basketball.”
That style, the Hartland coach said, is playing from the inside out. In other words, getting the ball to their big men Jason Gigliotti, Brandon Harrison and Eric Schumman, and allowing those post players to make the decisions from there.
The Eagles gathered themselves at the break and rededicated to that game plan in the final two quarters, which led them to go on a 23-7 third-quarter run that ultimately sealed a 59-37 victory at South Lyon High School and set up district semifinal rematch Wednesday night with Howell.
“I just told them to calm down and be strong with the basketball,” Blouin said. “We were getting a little bit sped up, and I always tell our kids, ‘You don’t have to play as fast as the defense plays.’ South Lyon East’s defense was playing really fast for us, they sped us up and we just needed to be more methodical and assertive with the ball.
“So we got it inside, and it wasn’t just Jason. We got it to all of our bigs … and those guys did a good job of sealing off and making themselves felt as a presence down low, even if they didn’t touch it on every possession. They forced South Lyon (East) to play defense, and they stressed their guys out with their size and skill.”
Harrison finished the game with a team-high 11 points while Gigliotti posted nine.
The same two leading scorers with perhaps a few more points are what the Eagles have to hope for Wednesday night, as they will likely look to take a similar slow-it-down, inside-out approach vs. the rival Highlanders.
Howell is known for being an up-tempo group that spreads the floor with shooters, and that’s what sunk Hartland in the first meeting between the two this year, when the Eagles lost, 52-34, on the road against the Highlanders. By comparison, the Eagles scored a 50-44 win over Howell in the second contest, a home contest, by buckling down on the defensive end and taking a more tactical approach.
If they want to end Howell’s season for a second straight year, they will have to execute as they did in the last matchup, and as they did in the third quarter on Monday night.
“This win means a lot,” Blouin said. “It definitely gives us some momentum.
“Having split with Howell, we know we can beat them, but they’re a very good team.”
That confidence doesn’t just stem from the 2016-17 season, when the schools were 1-1 against each other, despite Howell being 14-6 overall and 8-2 in the KLAA West while the Eagles were 10-10 with a 4-6 mark in division play.
It comes from the Eagles’ recent success when facing Howell.
Dating back to last year, Hartland has beaten Howell in four of the previous six contests. That includes the Eagles eliminating the Highlanders from the KLAA Association Tournament in 2016, and then returning shortly after to end their season in districts.
It was a memorable district semifinal battle that went in Hartland’s favor, 44-41.
The Eagles would go on to become district champions.
That, of course, was a different team, that had Livingston Daily’s Boys Basketball Player of the Year, Konlan Paul — among others. But it was one that got hot at the right time. Hartland was 10-12 overall during the 2015-16 campaign, yet played for a Lakes Conference title and won districts.
The Eagles now must hope history can repeat itself.