Mitch Ganote’s offensive game is characterized not by a single unstoppable move or shot, but more by the sheer number of ways he can beat an opponent. Crossovers, eurosteps, hesitations, effective post moves, an off-handed scoop shot – the Lambert senior guard showed off all those and more on Friday night against Hillgrove.
But there was one skill that was conspicuously lacking for Ganote early this season: free throws, ironically the one type of shot that’s always unguarded.
“The first four or five games, I was shooting like 30, 40 percent,” Ganote said.
He quickly got to work fixing that. He added around 100 extra free throws to his typical practice workload and reworked his form, working on making it more fluid and rhythmic. The value of that work became clear against the Hawks, as Ganote led Lambert (8-1) with 26 points and, most crucially, hit all 12 of his free throws to lead the Longhorns to an 83-78 win.
“Mitch is a winner,” Lambert head coach Scott Bracco said. “He’s the best guard in the state.”
The game wasn’t looking like one where the charity stripe could be the decider until the fourth quarter. Lambert took a 68-54 lead out of the third, with junior guards Luke Champion and Braxton Beaty heating up in the final minutes.
The Hawks surged back by opening the fourth quarter on a 17-6 run, though, which brought put the score at 74-73.
“We were getting inside, but we really weren’t finishing,” Ganote said. “Myself, Braxton, Colin (Granger) – we just couldn’t get the ball in the basket.”
Ganote singlehandedly gave Lambert a boost of momentum shortly after: He was fouled bringing the ball up on the Longhorns’ next possession and hit both free throws. When the Hawks got it back, Ganote stole the ball from Hillgrove’s Jaiden Julian, who had 26 points on the night, and finished a layup at the other end to put the Longhorns’ lead at 78-73.
The Hawks responded quickly with a three, but Lambert would score six of the game’s next eight points, with two Ganote free throws accounting for the final tallies.
Lambert also got double-digit scoring outputs from Granger (17), Champion (15, on five three-pointers) and Beaty (13).
Hillgrove 57, Lambert girls 34
The Longhorns (2-5) scored the first six points of the night’s first matchup, but the Hawks responded with the next nine, and once they took an 11-9 lead, held that for the rest of the night.
Jenny McKenna led the Longhorns with 14 points, with 12 coming from four three-pointers.