MOWEAQUA -- Through six minutes, Warrensburg-Latham played flawlessly.
Andrew Butts slid and caught his own rebound for a putback. Alex Coers went right back to Butts, dialing up a wide-open alley-oop before Jarius Ingram flipped the turbo switch and twice zipped through the paint.
It kept snowballing into a 16-point lead in six minutes. For the next 26, though, the Cardinals were on their heels keeping Central A&M from mounting a massive comeback. Warrensburg just held on, beating the Raiders 60-58 on Friday.
"We're lucky," Warrensburg coach Vic Binkley said. "We turned the ball over 22 times. That's not us. I'm sure we didn't rebound like we would like.
"And then it comes down to free throws at the end, missed three 1-and-1s, that's six points."
Connor Heaton's second half performance nearly crumbled Warrensburg's (14-3) lead. The A&M freshman scored 22 of his 29 points in the second half, and nearly tied the game on a buzzer-beater.
With seconds left, Jameson Smith's 3-pointer ricocheted toward the free throw line. Heaton launched himself to his right, cupped the ball in his right hand and tossed it right back toward the hoop. It was right on line, but inches too strong.
"I thought we played hard. I thought we played with a lot of heart," Central A&M coach Rob Smith said. "You know, we just came up a little bit short."
Heaton and A&M (9-8) might not have needed that shot if it wasn't for Alex Coers saving Warrensburg's offense.
After Warrensburg's explosion of offense early, it was on life-support the next two quarters. Coers -- who by all accounts was under the weather, and was visibly overheated -- converted back-to-back steals and makes in the second quarter before hitting three 3-pointers in the third.
His 20 points and five assists bridged the first and fourth quarters to give Warrensburg its third straight win by four points or less. Coincidentally, it's Coers' third-straight game leading the team in scoring.
But even though the offense struggled, the rest of Warrensburg's lineup figured out what else they could do. Joe Gustafson had 15 rebounds and Andrew Butts had 12 more. Reis Kendrick had four assists and Ingram provided stability in ball-handling and 13 points.
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"We obviously struggled in the first half finishing at the rim," Gustafson said. "I was changing my shot a lot, but it wasn't going in. I knew my shot wasn't falling, so I had to make sure I stepped up in other categories."
With a lineup that hadn't seen much varsity time coming into the season, Warrensburg's playing like they've been through these scenarios plenty of times.
The last two games against Shelbyville and LSA, they've needed fourth-quarter comebacks to seal the win. Now with a win against Central A&M, the Cardinals have won six straight games and are tied atop the conference standings with St. Teresa at 3-0.
A&M's quickness comes through even when they're standing still.
The Raiders' in-bounds plays are so good, particularly because Keaton Garner breaks down the defense so well and because Heaton's inside shot is just as good.
Garner finished with eight assists.
Heaton has the ability to stretch himself so close to the basket while maintaining a steady shot and using the glass well.
"That's kind of his strength, being able to finish at the basket," Smith said.
Mixing it up
A&M took advantage of the Cardinals pushing a little too hard trying to find their shot in the second and third quarters. As the Cardinals took quick and sometimes wild shots, the Raiders accentuated that by throwing all kinds of different looks their way.
"We went to a box and 1 on Ingram in the second quarter," Smith said. "In the third, we drew up a little triangle and 2 on Butts and Ingram. We were really trying to disrupt their rhythm defensively by mixing things up."