---- — By Anthony Mitchell
For The Daily Item
MANDATA -- Midd-West coach Aaron Ettinger told his players gathered in the locker room to be patient in the second half.
The Mustangs had closed the Line Mountain lead to one heading into the second half and had started to change the flow of the game.
The Mustangs listened to their coach and disrupted Line Mountain offensively to pull away for a 54-38 non-league win Friday.
"Our defense really cleaned itself up there a lot more," Ettinger said. "We rotated a lot better. We got out in transition. (In) the first half, we were just very impatient."
For much of the first half, Midd-West did not have many second-chance opportunities as the Eagles were able to win the battle for rebounds in close.
However, the Mustangs' speed on defense created transition chances on offense late in the first half, leading to looks at high-percentage shots.
Midd-West scored eight of the last 10 points of the first half after a three-pointer from the right wing by Kellen Masser increased the Line Mountain lead to seven, 24-17. Undeterred, Ascher Marks knocked down a trey for the Mustangs from the same spot at the other end of the floor and the run was on.
Marks started the run for the Mustangs at the end of the first half and he continued the burst as the second half started.
While Marks showed an ability to score from the perimeter early, he continued to make a difference driving inside. Marks had a shot blocked two minutes into the half but stayed with the play, regaining possession and scored off the glass to give the Mustangs their first lead of the game, 27-26.
Marks finished with a game-high 14 points, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers for the Mustangs.
"Ascher is a college-level talent," Ettinger said. "He has a really good feel for the game."
After pushing ahead, the aggressive defense that the Mustangs used throughout the game started to create turnovers.
"These are extremely tough kids," Ettinger said of his team. "They're extremely aggressive. They'll be on the floor. They'll go after it hard."
Dropping back into a zone, Eli Stem read a crosscourt pass from the Eagles, breaking for the ball as the pass was released. Stem drew a foul at the other end and converted on both of his free throws. Stem knocked away another pass on Line Mountain's next trip down the floor, passing to Dyllan Folk, who made his way to the free throw line. Folk converted one of two at the line as the pair of steals by Stem started a string of four straight Eagles' possessions that ended with a Mustangs player sprinting the other way with the ball.
Stem's quick reflexes and free-throw shooting allowed the Mustangs to quickly pull ahead.
"Dyllan Folk and Eli Stem were both enormous for us tonight," Ettinger said. "They make smart decisions. Coming into this year with two senior guards, we knew that they were going to be vital for us this season."
Kellan Masser knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key for Line Mountain to end a run of 11 straight points for the Mustangs to start the second half. The Mustangs quickly pushed the lead back into double digits with Folk nabbing a pair of assists on a layup by Zachary Shrader followed by a layup from Stem.
The Mustangs took a 40-29 lead into the fourth and continued to find the bottom of the net, attacking the offensive boards and limiting Line Mountain to one-and-done possessions, scoring the first seven points of the fourth quarter.
With crisp passing down low, the Mustangs were able to stay in front by double digits, extending their lead to a game-high 22 points at 54-32 with a minute left.
After a timeout, the Eagles scored the last six points of the game.
Masser and Dylan Bartholomew each drained a pair of threes for Line Mountain, with Bartholomew finishing with 10 points to lead the Eagles.