Draper •Â Noah Togiai toed the free throw line with 10 seconds on the clock, his Hunter Wolverines up by three. Togiai had just made the front end of a one-and-one, and Juan Diego guard Gabe Colosimo leaned in, uttering something underneath is breath to Togiai.
Togiai laughed, dismissing Colosimo, a friend off the court, with a playful wave of his hand. He caught the ball from the referee, bent at the knees and released, hitting nothing but twine. With that, Togiai had iced the Wolverines'Â 53-49 win over the Soaring Eagle on Wednesday.
It wasn't until after the game that Togiai revealed what Colosimo and his Soaring Eagle teammates had been telling him as he prepared to shoot the final free throw.
"I have a couple friends who play for Juan Diego. They were all, 'Choke, choke,'" Togiai said. "I was basically making it just to shut them up, really."
For Hunter, the game was another step closer to finding an identity as a team, something Togiai said has been difficult with inexperience at nearly every position. But as a double-digit, second-half lead slipped away, he gathered them. He directed them to play calm, under control basketball. Something clicked Â the Wolverines regained their composure, and the game.
"I told them to calm down,"Â Togiai said. "We always play at the rec center so I told them to play like no one is watching. We play pretty good at the rec, but when the crowd is here, it's so different for them. It kind of kicked in for them and they settled down."
That it took a pair of late free throws to ice the game not only was a signifier of Hunter's inexperience; it was a testament to Colosimo, who took over after the Wolverines established their lead.
The junior guard finished with 21 points and drove and spun and shot the Soaring Eagle back from the deficit to take a brief lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Togiai, who has played with Colosimo in summer ball, said the Wolverines adjusted just enough to Colosimo's play to stave him off in the fourth.
"Star players get their points,"Â Togiai said. "I kind of know his game a little bit, so I was giving [our defenders] tips. It was good enough to win, I guess."
Togiai was excellent in his own right, stuffing the stat sheet and finishing with 19 points. He began the game driving the lane off the dribble, getting to the hoop seemingly at will. When Juan Diego's defense began collapsing on him, he adjusted, too, and fed several easy buckets to his teammates.
"No I did not,"Â Togiai said emphatically when asked if he recalled making a jumper all night. "I'll test my shot at the beginning, and if it's not going in, I'll take it to the basket. However we can win is what I'll do."
Hunter 53,Juan Diego 49
O Noah Togiai scores 19 points and hits the game-clinching free throws with 10 seconds left.
• Juan Diego's Gabe Colosimo finishes with a game-high 21 points and nearly leads a Soaring Eagle comeback.
• Hunter improves to 2-2 after a pair of season-opening losses.