By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
LAPEL, Ind. — Anderson sophomore Thomas Wells didn’t start the first game of his varsity career Tuesday night at Lapel.
But he made sure he finished it.
Wells scored 21 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the floor and went 9-for-10 from the free-throw line as the Indians (1-0) found a way to hold off the Bulldogs (0-1) 54-47.
“I was just trying to play hard and just move the ball,” Wells said. “I was trying to work through the offense. I didn’t want to force anything.”
The 6-foot newcomer was front and center during the game’s decisive stretch.
With the score tied 47-47 and 1:32 remaining in the game, Anderson senior Kenya Wilkerson was called for a charge on a drive to the basket and fouled out. Moments later, junior Fresan Reese stole the ball from Lapel’s Brady Cherry, and Indians coach Joe Nadaline called time out.
Coming out of the break, Wells drove into the paint and threw up a ringer that fell through the net and appeared to give the Tribe the lead. But officials ruled a Bulldog foul had occurred on the floor and sent Wells to the free-throw line instead.
He made the first free throw and missed the second. This time, freshman Dejuan Peel came up big, stealing the ball at the other end of the court and flipping an outlet to Reese, whose jumper gave Anderson a three-point lead with 47.3 seconds to play.
Wells iced the game with four consecutive free throws in the final 22 seconds, and the Indians escaped with their first win.
“You don’t know where it’s going to come from with this team,” Nadaline said, noting Wells played very well. “The next game it could be somebody else. That’s the funnest thing about this team, it’s going to be a different guy every game.”
For much of the opener, it appeared as though Lapel would be celebrating at the end.
The Bulldogs pulled ahead 5-0 and used a later 7-0 run to go up 12-5. But Anderson fought back and tied the game after the first-quarter buzzer when senior Grant Bennett made two of three free-throw attempts.
Led by 12 points from senior Mitchell Richardson, Lapel moved back in front 24-21 at the half. But the sharpshooter picked up his third foul with 1:20 to play in the second quarter and sat out the start of the second half.
When he returned, the Anderson defense made sure to find him on every possession.
“They didn’t let him touch it,” Bulldogs coach Jimmie Howell said. “He was open some, but we couldn’t get the ball to him. Our timing was not very good.”
Wells provided a preview of things to come with a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to cut Lapel’s lead to 38-37 heading into the final period.
The Bulldogs scored the first four points of the final quarter but couldn’t hold off the hard-charging Tribe down the stretch.
“We just didn’t play with much poise in the last three to four minutes of the game,” Howell said. “I thought we outplayed ’em up to that point.”
Reese joined Wells in double figures with 12 points, and Wilkerson finished with nine points and seven boards.
Richardson led the Bulldogs with 16 points, Triston Carpenter added 10 points and six rebounds and Cherry finished with nine points.
Lapel hosts Elwood on Saturday, while Anderson is off until a Dec. 7 trip to Fort Wayne Snider.
“This was our first game, and we had a lot of guys who had never played in a varsity game before,” Nadaline said. “The thing I was most proud of with this team tonight is that they played hard throughout the game.”