EPG wins at State Farm Classic

    Hub Halvorsen’s second basket gave El Paso-Gridley the lead for good midway through the first quarter and the Titans went on to drop St. Thomas More 63-55 in a first-round game of the State Farm Holiday Classic small school boys’ basketball tournament Wednesday at the Shirk Center.
    Halvorsen’s first basket provided the game’s initial points and the Sabers were able to tie EPG two times — at 2-2 and 4-4 — before the senior guard’s next hoop gave the Titans a lead for the games final 28:20.
    “Hub did a great job of attacking early and scoring,” EPG head coach Nathaniel Meiss said. “In the second half he attacked and then dropped it off to guys wide open. They wanted to push him left and he did a good job of exploiting that. Today was probably one of his best games as far as finishing around the rim.”
    Halvorsen was the senior leader any coach loves to have on the floor. He was able to get his teammates involved while also taking control of situations by himself. His first three baskets came on fastbreak chances, and his final hoop of the first quarter was a running floater in the paint that gave the Titans a 14-10 lead as the period closed.
    Halvorsen and Dylan Smith were able to get EPG into is running game by being able to ease the pressure of the Sabers’ pressure. Once the ball got to the interior, Jack Weber and Aaron Steiner took over.
    “I thought for the whole game we handled their pressure pretty well,” Meiss said. “We had opportunities where I thought we were going to gap them and then we kind of let them fight back into it. They’re a really good team.”
    That was the problem for EPG — not being able to pull away. Halvorsen gave the Titans a 12-4 lead with 2:31 to go in the opening frame, but St. Thomas More got a 3-pointer and a three-point play from Alec Blomberg in a 33-second span that trimmed the margin to 12-10.
    A Steiner basket in the low post was followed by two Halvorsen scores off drives that gave El Paso-Gridley a 28-18 advantage with 49 seconds left in the first half.
    But the Sabers responded with two treys in the final 35 seconds to cut the margin to 28-24 by halftime.
    The titans had the lead in double figures again in the fourth quarter, at 46-36, only to see St. Thomas More fight back with eight unanswered points to make it a 46-44 contest with 4:49 to go.
    Halvorsen struck again for EPG, this time with a dish to Teron Fairchild inside that triggered an 8-2 spurt and created enough separation down the stretch.
    “This whole tournament is a meat grinder, you’re not going to get an easy one,” Meiss said. “This whole tournament is an opportunity to play some of the best teams around. I hope we’re up to the challenge.”
    EPG closed out the victory by making 7 of 9 free throws over the final two minutes.
    Halvorsen led the Titans (9-1), who won their seventh straight, with 18 points. Fairchild added 16 and Weber checked in with 15 points. Steiner collected 8 points and 11 rebounds while Smith hit for 6 points.
    Alec Blomberg paced the Sabers with 18 points. Riley Morris added 11 and Jake Sellett had 10 points.
    El Paso-Gridley, the eighth seed, will take on top-seed Winnebago in the quarterfinal round today at 4 p.m. at Normal West High School.