As Jaylen Brown and Elijah Staley traded inside baskets in the opening minutes to fuel a 10-point game-opening run, the Wildcats went on to win 63-52 in the finale of the Nike Explosion showcase event.
Brown, a five-star recruit who’s been offered by a long list of major-conference programs, led Wheeler with 22 points. Staley, committed to Mississippi State for football and basketball, finished with 19.
“(The quick start) set the tone for the game,” Brown said. “We wanted to come out aggressive. We wanted to come out with energy. We wanted to feed into the crowd.”
Although Wheeler (4-0) never trailed, that 10-point run by Staley and Brown was crucial.
Miller Grove (5-1), a five-time reigning state champion, ignited a run of its own in the second quarter and got within three on a couple of occasions in the second half.
The Wolverines adjusted and forced Wheeler into some turnovers and bad shots following the early run.
That allowed Miller Grove to orchestrate an 8-2 run of its own that started late in the first quarter, and the Wolverines got within four early in the second quarter on a jump shot by James Walker.
Although Wheeler bounced back to take a 13-point halftime lead, a few careless turnovers by the Wildcats early in the second half got the Wolverines right back in it. Miller Grove cut Wheeler’s lead to three at one point, on a putback by Deven Dorsett, before a three-point play by Staley made it a two-possession game.
“I think, in the third quarter, at the beginning, we had four turnovers in a row that didn’t help us at all,” Wheeler coach Doug Lipscomb said. “We bounced back and I was very proud of the effort the kids gave.”
Wheeler’s lead stretched to as many as eight early in the fourth on a Brown layup, but Miller Grove answered with a quick five-point run on a 3-pointer by Alterique Gilbert and a Walker’s layup off an inbounds pass.
Wheeler’s lead was in jeopardy once again, having been cut to three points.
But on the Wildcats’ next possession, Makhai Eastmond sank a 3-pointer from the right wing, and it ended up being the spark Wheeler was looking for. Eastmond’s 3 launched a 7-0 run, and he contributed a pair of free throws before Daniel Giddens capped it off with a dunk off a Miller Grove turnover.
Miller Grove got within five inside the final 2 minutes of the game, when Walker got a layup off a steal, but Wheeler responded when Staley’s three-point play put Miller Grove out of reach.
Gilbert led Miller Grove with 21 points, going a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc in the second half. Walker was also in double figures with 13 points.