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Brainerd's Jonte' Williams, right, gets a pass by Howard's Kerrick Thorne during Saturday night's game at Howard. / Staff photo by Robin Rudd

A raucous home crowd for the Howard boys' basketball team made for an electric atmosphere during its District 6-AAA rivalry game against Brainerd on Saturday night, but it came at the expense of the Hustlin' Tigers playing out of character.

After a halftime of regaining composure, Howard turned a close game into a double-digit lead in a flash and cruised to a 59-46 win in a matchup of teams that made state tournament runs last season.

"The environment for this game is always crazy, and our boys really played to the crowd in the first half," Howard coach James Talley said. "We got out of who we are because we let the crowd dictate the game, but we got them back in at halftime to shut them down and send them out playing the right kind of ball."

The first half played more like a football game than basketball as both teams slashed their way to the basket to draw hard fouls. By halftime the teams had racked up 33 free throws, much to the dismay of Brainerd coach Levar Brown.

"We missed 17 free throws in the first half, and that's nothing but lack of concentration and locking in when you go to the line," Brown said. "We were in the bonus with two minutes to play in the first quarter, and we come to halftime losing by five when we should've come in with a lead."

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Howard boys vs. Brainerd

Howard traded in free throws for jump shots early in the second half as Calvin James pulled up for a midrange jumper to start the half and Demetrious Bowens knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers moments later. After Brainerd called an early timeout in the third quarter, Howard proceeded to finish a 9-0 run that allowed the Hustlin' Tigers' defense to shine by holding the Panthers to two made baskets in the third quarter.

Brainerd's LaDerron Freeman led all scorers with 23 points. Howard's Bowens scored 18, while Xavier Fisher and Jailen Sexton each added nine.

"This game is good because it's for momentum," Talley said. "Brainerd can really play and they're battle-tested, so learning from this game can help us get to where we need to be."

Contact John Mitchell at sports@timesfreepress.com.

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