Six minutes into Tuesday's night Central Wisconsin South Conference showdown pitting Port Edwards at Stevens Point Pacelli, the Blackhawks had the home squad on their heels.
Getting major production from talented senior wing Nathan Gibbs, Port Edwards forged to a 13-6 lead as Gibbs drilled three triples. The lead grew to 16-6 less than a minute later when Gibbs dropped his fourth three-point shot.
What's more, talented 6-foot-7 sophomore Jaydon Awe of Pacelli picked up his second foul.
"The first seven or eight minutes, we got great looks and the guys were really moving the ball," Port Edwards coach Justin Beck said. "Nathan got some great looks and he knocked them down."
Things turned the rest of the way, though, as Pacelli coach John Schurk opted to play Awe with two fouls and the Cardinals managed to take a 32-31 lead.
Pacelli then dominated the second half to notch an important 69-53 victory. The triumph helped the Cardinals open up a two-game lead in the CWC South standings with a 6-0 league mark. Pacelli also improved to 11-2 in all games.
The idea to play Awe with two fouls and just under 12 minutes to play in the first half wasn't a hard one for Schurk. He's been in a similar situation with both Awe and his son, sophomore Camden Schurk, at different times this season.
"Cam and Jaydon have had multiple times when they've been in foul trouble and we've played them and it's worked out," coach Schurk said. "You have to trust your players to be smart in those situations."
Awe didn't pick up his third foul until midway through the second half. By then, the damage was done as Pacelli had a comfortable lead, thanks in large part to the strong play of Awe.
The improving big man finished the contest with an exceptionally impressive stat line -- a season-high 25 points, 19 rebounds and seven blocked shots.
The long and athletic forward is averaging 16.8 points, 17.6 rebounds and 4.1 blocked shots.
"Jaydon has gotten stronger from a year ago," Schurk said. "And he's gotten mentally stronger as well. He had some games last year when he paniced. This year, he completely trusts his teammates."
Awe's presence in the post was difficult for Port Edwards to contain, and his length and shot-blocking skills thwarted many of the Blackhawks' field goal attempts in the lane, particularly in the second half.
"Awe was such a presence on defense tonight," Beck said. "He affected almost everything inside tonight whether he blocked it or altered our shots."
Camden Schurk, who is averaging a team-high 16.9 ppg, suffered through a tough shooting night (5-of-18 from the floor), but still managed to score 13 points while also hauling in eight rebounds.
"There is a lot of heart with this team," coach Schurk said. "They are starting to trust each other. They know who has their back. Our biggest growth as a team this year is our ability to handle adversity. We preach one play at a time, and tonight our guys picked it up."
Senior Bennett Eckendorf (5-9) and sophomore point guard Logan Mayer (5-8) also had strong outings for Pacelli, finishing with 10 and nine points, respectively. Mayer also had 10 rebounds and seven assists.
"Logan is our general and has to run the show for us," Schurk said. "When he is controlling the game, he makes Jaydon and Cam so much better."
Port Edwards came into the contest ranked No. 7 among Division 5 schools in the WSN Coaches Poll, but the Blackhawks fell two games behind Pacelli in the league standings with their third loss overall and second in league play.
After Gibbs torched Pacelli early, his looks at the basket were somewhat limited during the middle portion of the game. He finished strong though, and completed the contest with 28 points.
"They did a good job of denying Nathan the ball and making him work for touches," Beck said.
Gibbs has 35 three-point baskets in 12 games for Port Edwards and leads the team in scoring (17.3 ppg) and rebounding (7.2 rpg). His finished with six triples against Pacelli and has scored 1,209 points during his stellar four-year career.
Gibbs got some help from senior guard Timmy Tranel (5-11), who had 12 points, and from sophomore guard Brynden Beck (5-11), who drilled three triples and scored nine points.
But no other Port Edwards player scored more than three points as the Blackhawks dropped their second straight game after losing to Pittsville last week.
Things don't get any easier for Port Edwards this week as the Blackhawks travel to Almond-Bancroft Friday for a league game with the 12-2 Eagles.
"We are looking to get some more consistent player from others as we move forward," Beck said. "There is a lot of season left, and we get Pacelli at our place next month."