By Dan Truttschel~Sports Correspondent

There’s going to be nights when the Wilmot boys basketball team has trouble finding the hoop on a consistent basis.

That’s just a fact of life – however, one thing the Panthers can always hang their hat on is their defense.

And that was the difference Friday night.

Wilmot forced host Westosha Central into 24 turnovers and broke open a close game with a big second half en route to a 56-25 Southern Lakes Conference victory.

The win improved the Panthers to 8-1 overall and 5-0 in the SLC, while Central fell to 3-6 and 1-4.

The importance of beating Central, which swept the Panthers a year ago, wasn’t lost on first-year Wilmot head coach Jake Erbentraut.

“The players, schools and community have created a great rivalry,” he said. “The atmosphere was exciting, almost like a playoff game, and the kids get pumped for it.

“More than anything, I was pleased with our team keeping their focus and staying consistent with our defense.”

The first half was played at Central’s desired, slower pace, as the Panthers led 22-15 by the intermission.

Central coach Dave Sjong said his team executed the game plan fairly well in the first half, which kept the game within reach.

“We wanted to use our size and strength,” he said. “It should have been closer, but we deviated from the game plan late in the second quarter.”

But a 15-2 run to start the second half put distance between the teams, and Wilmot never looked back from there.

“I think the pace of the game went in our favor,” Erbentraut said. “Westosha did a good job in the first half playing their game and forced us to adjust.

“But the third quarter proved to be advantageous for us. We started getting some transition points and scored off their turnovers.”

Sjong agreed.

“Wilmot’s ball pressure bothered us and led to multiple turnovers, which fueled the run to start the third quarter,” he said. “They pressured the ball, and it wouldn’t allow us to get into our offense, which caused us to panic and start dribbling, which led to bad results.”

Wilmot outscored the Falcons 34-10 the final two quarters to take control.

Another factor in the Panthers’ favor came at the free-throw line, where they made 15 of 23 attempts. Central missed all 11 of its shots from the charity stripe.

While his team followed the plan well in the first half, it didn’t in the second, and that was the difference, Sjong said.

“We made adjustments at half, but did not execute what we talked about,” he said. “We are not good enough to deviate from our game plan, and once we figure that out, we will get better.”

Mike Stevenson led a balanced scoring attack for the Panthers with 13 points and 10 rebounds, followed by Brandon Schattner with 12 points, four rebounds, four steals and four assists. Nate Hensel added 10 points and three steals, while Jimmy Scully had eight points and five rebounds.

Ben Graveley led the Falcons with 10 points, followed by Glenn Karsten with six and Luke Millhouse with five.