HOWELL — Halfway through the 2015-16 season, the Howell boys basketball team is 7-3 and tied with Grand Blanc for first in the KLAA West.
So far, so good.
“We’re definitely doing well,” senior Derek Kerner said. “I think in conference we’re handling business and we’ve seen everyone, so that’s good.”
The Highlanders got there by holding off Brighton, 51-46, at Howell High School.
But, while Howell never trailed, the Highlanders couldn’t put the Bulldogs (5-5, 1-4) away until the final minute.
“I love our hard work and our toughness,” Brighton coach Mike Griest said. “They never quit. There were moments where it was tough because we dug those holes.”
Howell got on a roll early, getting out to a 15-6 lead against a Brighton squad that scored its first 10 points at the free throw line.
“We were doing a good job of going through our offense and hitting our shots,” Kerner said. “They were missing more shots, but they were converting at the free-throw line.”
Alex House finally broke the spell with a basket in the final three minutes of the half, but the Bulldogs would play catch-up the rest of the night.
“We can play with everybody,” Griest said. “We have to figure out as a (coaching) staff how to get over that hump. How to start better. We haven’t had a whole game in a while where we’ve played well. We’ve had quarters. We’ve had spurts, but we’ve got to find consistency and put four quarters together. That’s the goal. We’re not good enough to have a quarter off.”
Howell led by seven, 25-18, at the half and kept the Bulldogs at bay most of the rest of the way until the final minute, when House hit a 3-pointer that kissed the glass before falling through and cutting the Howell lead to three, 49-46.
“Alex House hit a big shot, and you hope they miss a free throw and then we have a shot at it then,” Griest said.
But the Highlanders, who were in the double-bonus down the stretch, got a pair of free throws from sophomore Jon Shields to put the game out of reach in the final seconds.
Shields and freshman Josh Palo played key roles for the Highlanders. Shields had 12 points and Palo added eight.
“Jonny, we’ve come to expect that from,” Howell coach Nick Simon said. “But Josh Palo took a big step forward tonight. He’s a heck of a ballplayer and I thought he took a step forward in showing how talented he is.”
Brighton travels to Temperance to take on Bedford in a non-conference game Tuesday, while Simon is looking forward to a week of practice before Howell plays host to Milford next weekend.
“We’ll be fine-tuning things for the last time,” Simon said. “This is the last go-around to get the kinks out and put anything in new that we want before we play next Friday. I love where we’re at.”