TEMPLE — It took about a half for the Salado boys basketball team to build up an appetite for the postseason on Tuesday.
Sluggish play by Salado helped Hamilton stay close for the first 12 minutes, but led by Dane Hankamer the No. 17-ranked Eagles pulled away for a 72-51 win in a Class 2A bi-district playoff game at Wildcat Gym.
Hamilton (11-16) trailed 18-17 after a jumper by Adam Beckner with 3:34 left in the second quarter.
Then Hankamer got cooking.
Hankamer closed out the first half with eight straight points, including a 10-foot putback as time expired to give Salado (29-3) a 26-21 halftime lead. The momentum continued in the third quarter when Salado outscored Hamilton 22-11. Hankamer had five points in the third and finished with 19 while adding seven rebounds and three steals.
The Eagles responded after a halftime talk filled with disappointment.
“I think our play in the first half was poor compared to the second half,” Salado coach Kenny Mann said. “Hamilton came out hungrier and played with more intensity and I told our team that at halftime.
“When Dane had that run at the end of the first half, I told him, ‘Where was that at the first part of the game?’ I just wanted him to continue to play with passion, and he did.”
Salado, which has won 19 consecutive games, advanced to the area round to face Hempstead at 7 p.m. Friday in Giddings.
The top standouts for the game were in the frontcourt.
Hamilton stayed close thanks to center Colin Ferris, who had 12 of his 18 points in the first half. Ferris finished 8-for-11 from the field, but picked up his fourth foul with 2:33 left in the third quarter and Salado holding a 45-30 lead.
Yet even if Ferris had not been in foul trouble, Salado had momentum thanks to Tyler Ramthun, who finished with 14 points. Ramthun was 5-for-5 from the field and scored 12 points in the second half.
“Tyler was the rock in the second half,” Hankamer said.
Hankamer described his team’s play in the first half as pretty poor and credited better intensity for the turnaround. While the Eagles didn’t change their defense significantly they forced 14 second-half turnovers while making seven themselves. Salado point guard Kase Spears also had three steals to go with eight points and a game-high seven assists.
Salado’s frontcourt success also led to more trips to the foul line. The Eagles were 15 for 22 (68 percent) on free throws while Hamilton was 3 for 7.
“We didn’t try to get the ball down low on purpose, but Hamilton played 1-2-2 and 1-3-1 zones,” Mann said. “That cut down on shots our guards could take, and they didn’t force shots,” Mann said. “Our offense just did the work.”
Hamilton opened the fourth quarter with a 6-0 run to cut Salado’s lead to 48-38, but a three-point play by Hankamer with 6:06 left started a 14-0 run to ice the game.
Garrett Moore scored 14 points for Hamilton, including four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. Beckner added 12 points and six assists for the Bulldogs, who shot 21 for 41 (51 percent) from the field.
Kole Hearne added nine points for Salado.
While happy for a playoff victory, Mann considered his team’s play in the
first half to be a warning.
“If we play Hempstead like what we played in the first half tonight, it
will be bad,” Mann said. “I think this taught us we have to come out and
play hard the whole game.”