Brandon Walters didn't need a whole lot to eat before Howard's rivalry basketball matchup against Brainerd on Friday. The other Hustlin' Tigers fed him in the paint all game long.
Walters finished with 25 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks as Howard jumped out to a double-digit lead early and held on for a 59-49 District 6-AA victory at Howard. Xavier Harris and Anthony Smith scored 10 points apiece for the Tigers (2-0, 1-0).
The 6-foot-8 center, who finished 11-for-14 at the free-throw line, said he didn't expect the early looks inside.
"When we first came out, they started to double-team, and we had to find a strategy to get the ball inside," he said. "This was a good win for us, but we have to work even harder because we could have done better tonight."
The Tigers scored the game's first 11 points, as Walters had four points, three rebounds and three blocks in the first five minutes. Brainerd (4-3, 1-1) got on the board with 3:03 to go on a pair of free throws by Jabari Evans, but Howard led 17-5 after a quarter.
The Panthers went on a 13-2 run in the second quarter, penetrating the gaps and getting the Tigers into foul trouble. Walters went out of the game foul with his second with 5:16 to go, and Brainerd responded with seven consecutive points. Demetrius Kitchens had seven points during the quarter, which ended with Howard leading 26-22.
"We had opportunities to put the game away in the first half, but we got selfish," Howard coach Walter McGary said. "We fed the big boy a lot, but we should have even more. He was scoring at will early on and we didn't feed him enough.
"For us to get where we want to go, we have to understand mismatches. Our basketball IQ isn't high enough yet; when you get a team down, you can't let them back in it."
Kitchens continued his hot streak in the second half, scoring seven straight points, with a 3 giving Brainerd its first lead, 31-29 with 3:29 to go. A pair of free throws by RodDarius Martin and a putback by Walters pushed the Tigers back in front, and they led 39-38 going into the final quarter.
Kitchens then started the fourth quarter out with a dunk, but again Howard responded, with a 3 by Smith and a pair of Walters free throws spearheading a 14-2 run that put the game out of reach.
Kitchens led Brainerd with 23 points. Jerrian Besley added nine.
"The game is played in here," Brainerd coach Robert High said, pointing to his head. "You can have all the talent in the world, but you have to think. You can't make the kind of mistakes we made tonight and beat Howard. They were unforced, and on top of that, we were scared to death.
"Merry Christmas, Howard. We gift-wrapped that one for you."