CANTON — For a half on Monday night, the Howell boys basketball team looked like giant-killers.
While Ann Arbor Skyline concentrated on stopping Josh Palo, the Eagles couldn’t stop Matt Dewar, who had 10 points in the first quarter alone.
The Highlanders stepped up their defense in the second half and led the unbeaten Eagles 40-32.
In the second half, Skyline went to senior guard Brandon Wade, and that proved too much.
Wade went off for 17 points in the period as Skyline went on a 24-1 run and never looked back in a 73-59 victory in a Class A regional semifinal at Salem High School.
For Howell coach Nick Simon, it was another opportunity to convince his team of something few Howell teams have considered over the years.
“I’ve been preaching Breslin Center for a couple of years,” he said. “And people think I’m messing around or setting goals that are too lofty. Last year, we were up by three points with three minutes to go against a team (West Bloomfield) that went to the Breslin Center, and I truly believe Novi or Skyline is going to make it (there) this year.
“I think we’re right there,” Simon added. “We just need that extra gear in the summer. We’re right there. We’re on the verge. You have to make one more jump, and we’re there.”
Monday’s game displayed both the possibility ahead and what it will take to get there.
The Highlanders pulled away in the second quarter due to Kip French, who had seven of his 11 points in the quarter, and a defense that kept Wade busy while holding him to nine points.
“I thought we did an excellent job in the first half of flustering him and frustrating him,” Simon said. “And then, doing a really good job on )Jack) Ammerman, who’s a heck of a basketball player, and the younger Wade (Ryan), too. Taking those guys out of their rhythm for the most part.”
“We were shooting the ball really well,” Palo said, “but I thought we were playing defense pretty good. It’ just a game of runs. They came out in the second half on fire, and we didn’t answer quick enough.”
The Skyline run was fueled by a rare five-point swing. DeSean Munson scored a basket and was fouled. He missed the free throw, but after Skyline got the rebound the ball went to Brandon Wade, who buried a three and the rally was on.
Wade led four Skyline players in double figures with 32 points.
Palo led the Highlanders with 14, while Dewar had 13, Tony Honkala 12 and French 11.
All but one, Dewar, are juniors or younger. The development of players like Honkala, who as a sophomore is growing into the player the Highlanders hoped he could be, will be key to making Simon’s talk of playing at the Breslin Center reality.
“It just shows how good we could be,” Palo said of his team’s fast start. “We have to buy in, get into the weight room in the offseason and do all the things we have to do in the off-season to be great.”
“The kids have bought into our system and we have very high expectations for every single group we have, and it’s no different next year,” Simon said. “We’re going to work really hard in the offseason to make that jump from good to great. That’s the expectation for us, to go to that next= level and start winning more of these regional titles.