KINGDOM CITY -- The North Callaway Thunderbirds forced 11 turnovers en route to winning their first game this season Friday at North Callaway High School.
"We turned them over a lot, and we let our defense turn to easy offense," North Callaway boys basketball coach Matt Miller said. "First game of the year, struggling to score, and so we thought maybe playing this team, we could trap a little bit and use our speed against them. We used that to increase our scoring opportunities, and we jumped up on them pretty early, and a lot of that was the boys' energy. They were fired up, ready to play today, which was awesome when they came out."
North Callaway beat Silex 79-47 to open Eastern Missouri Conference play. The Thunderbirds improved to 1-1 overall and 1-0 in the EMO, and the Owls dropped to 0-2 and 0-1.
The two all-district Thunderbirds, Isiah Craighead and Sam Pezold led North Callaway to victory.
Craighead recorded North Callaway's first double-double this season, tallying 13 points (went 4-8 from the free-throw line) and 11 rebounds.
"That's what we expect of him every night," Miller said. "First game, he had nine points and nine rebounds, and we talk to him, and he knows that's a good stat line -- it's not a bad stat line. But for him, he has higher expectations than that. ...There was a point in the fourth quarter I was going to take him out, and he was getting every rebound. If we took him out, I didn't know if we'd get a rebound. So, just the things he does besides scoring to help our team. Just so athletic and unselfish, and what he does on the defensive end is awesome as well."
Meanwhile, Pezold scored a game-high 27 points, making five 3s and going 2-2 from the charity stripe. He also had six steals, four assists and three rebounds.
"He and Isiah are our leaders; that's no secret," Miller said. "He's been playing varsity basketball for a long time, and he just keeps getting better and better every year, better and better every game. The thing I'm proud of him is just his overall game. You talk about the steals and those things. What he did on defense, how he gets rebounds, those things go a long way.
"...he had four assists the other night (and) he had four assists tonight. So he's unselfish as well with those 27 points also. So, the engine to what we're going to do, but he does it in a way where it's not selfish. He does it in a way where it's team-oriented, and he lets the game come to him."
As the junior varsity game was two quarters instead of four, the Fulton Sun wasn't in attendance for the first half of the varsity contest.
At halftime, North Callaway led 42-19, outscoring Silex 21-6 in the first quarter and 21-13 in the second. Pezold led the Thunderbirds' offense with 22 points in the first half, while Tyler Twellman led the Owls with 11 points -- he finished with a team-high 26.
"Made good shots, playing great defense and playing together," Miller said of the Thunderbirds' first-half performance. "That was awesome to see. That was a trend throughout the whole game. We played together (and) made the extra pass."
North Callaway finished with 18 assists.
"That a good night of sharing the basketball," Miller said.
Coming out of the break, Silex played physical defense, trying to force turnovers to help in its comeback attempt.
Early in the second half, the Owls' physicality didn't help, as they fouled Craighead on two of North Callaway's first three possessions, and he went 3-4 from the line then. However, Silex scored in two of its three drives to start the second half.
The Owls' Twellman made a top-of-the-arc 3, and then Jake Henry scored a layup while getting fouled -- he missed the and-1.
Henry stole the ball from North Callaway on its ensuing possession before Silex called a timeout, trailing 45-24 with 5 minutes and 56 seconds left in the third quarter.
After the pause in action, Craighead pickpocketed the Owls before Levi Drake scored a 3 off a throw-in to make it 48-24 Thunderbirds.
North Callaway scored just six points in the remaining roughly 5:30 in the third quarter. Silex outscored the Thunderbirds 15-12 in the third, mainly due to its four defensive rebounds and three steals.
Through three quarters, North Callaway led 54-34.
On its second drive of the fourth quarter, Silex narrowed its deficit below 20 points for the first time in the second half when Colsyn McMahan pulled down a defensive rebound and passed it to Twellman, who scored a transition layup.
Drake replied instantly, draining a left corner 3 to increase North Callaway's lead to 57-36.
After a few scoreless possessions by both teams, Silex reduced its deficit below 20 points again when Twellman went 2-2 from the line to put it at 57-38 Thunderbirds. He scored a putback on the next drive to make it a 17-point game.
Helping thwart an Owls comeback, Pezold pulled up for a top of the key 3, his final points of the contest, which received applause from North Callaway's student section. The Thunderbirds led 60-40 following Pezold's triple.
Replacing Pezold, Austin Brown scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, including two 3s. Brown's final trey gave North Callaway a 74-45 advantage, and on the Thunderbirds' next drive, Paul Russell knocked down a 3 to start the running clock with just over 1:30 left.
"He's a sophomore, young player with a whole lot of ability, a whole lot of talent, and we see it in practice all the time," Miller said of Brown. "He played two games this year, his first two varsity games, and so he's still learning, obviously. He missed two free throws in the first half, and he missed a wide-open layup in the first half and he was down a little bit at halftime. I told him at halftime, looked right at him, and I said, 'You're gonna score this half; I got no doubt in my mind. Just keep your head up and be confident.' ...He hit that first one, and it was just his confidence took off from there."
The running clock remained intact the rest of the matchup, and Tucker Sheets' layup on the game's last possession sealed a 32-point North Callaway victory.
According to MSHSAA's record book, which dates back to 2005-06, the Thunderbirds achieved at least their 14th straight victory against Silex. North Callaway's district-title-winning team beat Silex to win its first game last season, too.
"We're happy to get that first win. Once you get that first win under your belt, you can kind of, 'We can do this,'" Miller said. "I always tell the boys, I just told them a while ago that I think the best thing in high school athletics is a home conference win on a Friday night. That's about as good as it gets in any sport in high school athletics, and so pretty happy with the performance. We're going to enjoy the weekend and be ready for next week."
No. 7 seed North Callaway faces No. 2 seed Hallsville (3-0) in the Centralia Invitational opening round at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Centralia High School. Last season, the Thunderbirds lost twice in two games against the Indians.
"It's gonna be a challenge," Miller said. "I think if you win one game in that tournament, you're proud of it, and then if you win two games in that tournament, you're dang proud of that week just because of the teams that are in there and the level of competition. We're gonna go in like we always do and take it one game at a time, one quarter at a time and playing a really, really good Hallsville team that's gonna pressure you and get up in you, and we're gonna have to respond and handle that pressure. Be tough with the basketball and, guard people, and keep scoring the basketball. Looking forward to the opportunity, though."