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The Spartans erase a 13 point first quarter deficit, then hang on at the end to defeat the Panthers at home.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Hillsboro's Nate Smith attacks the Redmond defense during the Spartans' game against the Panthers Tuesday, Dec. 10, at Hillsboro High School.This season is about progress, and after a somewhat disappointing opener against McNary, the Hillsboro boys basketball team — despite a slow start — rebounded nicely with a 53-50 win over Redmond Tuesday, Dec. 10, at Hillsboro High School.

"We did a lot better," Hilhi head coach Mark Ganter said. "We handled that slow start in the first quarter, the guys sucked it up, and we got a win."

The Spartans were led by seniors Nate Smith, Lane Smith, and Kane Kiaunis who combined for 41 points and helped overcome a 13 point first quarter deficit en route to the season's first win over the Panthers from the Intermountian Conference.

"I thought we were pretty sloppy to be honest," Kiaunis said. "I mean, we started off really slow, but obviously towards the end of the game we did a good job staying composed, and that's the biggest thing."

The senior point guard saw a lot of improvement from last week's game with McNary to tonight's game against Redmond, and attributed some of that first-game ineptitude to nerves.

"That first game everyone was a little jittery," he said. "But I think tonight we did a lot better job of playing our game, and not playing so tight."

And Ganter took it a step further, citing a heightened level of maturity as one of the primary reasons for the win.

"Tonight I saw some of the leadership we need," the coach said. "We showed a lot more maturity, especially when we got behind. I don't know if we would've handled a game like this last year."

Redmond scored the first six points of the game, then jumped-out to a 17-4 lead thanks to five 3-pointers, three of which were by Panthers wing Javin Westendorf. Hillsboro however weathered the storm and pulled within eight to end the first quarter, then cut the lead to two, 24-22 at the half, thanks in part to seven straight points by sophomore Logan Jackson and senior Lane Smith.

In theory, one may have thought that the Sparts did something different strategically to turn the game's tide, but per their coach, it was more just about doing what they do better.

"We stuck with our bread and butter, 1-3-1 defense and made sure we knew where the shooters were," Ganter said.

And it worked — at least for a while.

Hillsboro took their first lead when Nate Smith hit from behind the arc to start the second half, then took a 39-35 lead to the fourth quarter after Lane Smith scored five straight points to end the third. Kiaunis scored four quick points to start the final stanza, and when Lane Smith scored four minutes in, the Sparts had their biggest lead, 47-38, and things appeared over. Redmond however, didn't get the memo.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Hillsboro's Kane Kiaunis works the perimeter against an eager Redmond defender during the Spartans' game against the Panthers Tuesday, Dec. 10, at Hillsboro High School.The Panthers cut the lead to four when junior Skyler Jones hit three straight 3-pointers with 43.6 ticks remaining on the clock, and when Westendorf hit another three eight seconds later, the lead was two and the Spartan faithful were getting nervous. But Kiaunis hit one of two free throws with 29.6 seconds on the clock, then Hillsboro held on as Westendorf's late 3-point attempt rattled out, securing the win despite nearly snatching defeat from the hands of victory.

"We knew all they could do was shoot, and we're still working on our closeouts," Ganter said. "Our closeouts are a little slow, but any time you can come out with a win, coming back from 13 behind, you've got to feel pretty good about that."

Kiaunis finished with 13 points and seven rebounds on 6-of-12 shooting, and like much of the team, looked like a more mature, aggressive, and confident player compared to last year. Something the senior acknowledged afterwards.

"For sure," he said when asked if he was playing more aggressively this year. "I mean, last year I probably just wasn't confident enough shooting the ball. And this year, I know I've gotta be one of the key guys on the team and take more shots to help us win."

And hopefully for the Sparts, that will continue. Kiaunis is confident that will be the case, and seems excited about the prospects of this year's team far exceeding last year's results.

"I feel like we're much better," he said. "I thought last year that we had some pretty big egos that hurt the team. But they're gone, and I think we have a good group of guys who've been together for a while. We play pretty well together and I think it's gonna be good for us."

Nate Smith finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds for Hillsboro, while Lane Smith tallied 15 points and nine assists.

Westendorf led Redmond with 17 points.

Hillsboro is next scheduled to play Woodburn at 7:00 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, at Woodburn High School.

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