Defense sparks Pilots’ win over Mott

WARREN, Mich. (MARCH 11, 2020) — For most of the first quarter Wednesday night, De La Salle Collegiate had trouble shaking Warren Mott in their Division 1 district semifinal matchup.

The Pilots had little trouble scoring. But they had trouble stopping the Marauders.

But a little defensive switch early in the second quarter did the trick, as De La Salle used a 13-0 run to end the first half en route to a commanding 62-33 victory and a spot in Friday night's district championship game against Warren Woods-Tower.

"We got out of man (to man) and went to a little 1-3-1 and we put a little pressure up top," De La Salle coach Greg Esler said. "And they did not like it. I thought that was big."

Mott cut De La Salle's lead to 24-22 after Mark Grayson weaved his way inside for a dunk. The crowd went crazy, but it was the last time the Marauders would celebrate in the first half. 

Less than a minute later, junior Linden Holder swiped a Mott pass and went in for a layup to get things going for the Pilots. On the ensuing Mott possession, sophomore Caleb Reese came up with the steal, leading to a fast break which freshman Triston Nichols capped off with a layup to make it a 28-22 lead. 

The fun was just getting started for De La Salle. Holder would come up with another steal, leading to a Reese putback basket, and Holder would knock down a long 3-pointer to help the Pilots take a 38-22 lead into halftime.

Nichols took over in the third quarter, scoring the Pilots' first eight points as Esler's team built a 20-point lead. Nichols and Holder each finished with 14 points to lead their team. Reese and senior Josef Gjonaj both had eight points and senior Ryan Buszka added six.

"Our guys played good. They did what they needed to do," said the coach, who saw his team improve to 13-8. "We held them to under 40 points, which was one of our goals tonight. (But) we're still capable of playing so much better."

 The Pilots will get their chance on Friday night, when they will face Warren Woods Tower in the district final, back at Fitzgerald High School at 6 p.m. De La Salle defeated the Titans, 53-36, back in December as part of the Calihan Challenge in Detroit.

"They're a very, very good basketball team. They'll be ready to play us," said Esler, whose team is looking for its sixth-straight district title. "Let's face it. Our seniors, nobody wants to go home. They don't want to end their careers, so you're going to get their best performances out of them."

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