Viera turns up its defense, Weatherspoon comes up big late as Hawks top Panthers

Viera Highs Justin Weatherspoon (in white) drives to the basket during Thursday night's game against Heritage. Weatherspoon would be fouled and convert the three-point play with four minutes left, helping the Hawks break a 55-55 tie. Viera would go on to win the game 67-57.

When Justin Weatherspoon can get it going on both ends of the floor, the Viera Hawks are a dangerous team.

And the senior guard definitely had it going Thursday night.

Weatherspoon’s three-point play broke a 55-55 tie with four minutes to go in Thursday night’s game against the visiting Heritage Panthers.

Weatherspoon, Tyler Costin and Amir Cason combined to go 7-for-8 at the free throw line in the final 1:20 as the Hawks were able to pull away for a 67-57 home victory in a key Class 6A, District 8 game.

“Justin leads us in every statistical category,” Viera coach Logan Keith said of Weatherspoon. “He’s on pace for over 100 assists on the season. And tonight, he would get a paint touch and he was making great decisions. He found Tyler Costin multiple times, found Amir, our point guard.

“He does a lot of things for us besides being able to score the ball in traffic. I don’t know how many steals he had tonight. It’s fun to watch him work and it’s fun to coach him.”

Viera (5-1) had three players score in double figures on the night, led by Costin’s 23 points. Weatherspoon had 19 and Cason had 15. Kamar Plain was next with eight. Zack Pillow had two.

Viera’s defense caused significant problems – and turnovers -- for Panthers (7-2) in the first quarter and in the second half, particularly after a made basket when the Hawks could set up their press.

Heritage is a nightmare matchup for anyone given the Panthers’ size and athleticism, and they can play some very good defense, too, which made for quite an entertaining matchup at Viera Thursday night.

The Hawks, playing without starting freshman big man Conlan Oakley, got significant contributions from sophomores Jack Hancock and Tyler Armstrong to help inside. But it was tough sledding against the Panthers, who dominated on the offensive boards.

Still, Viera got off to a strong start, leading 21-15 after the first quarter and bumping that up to 13 at one point in the second. However, a technical foul on Viera during a Heritage free throw helped spark a Panthers run that not only erased the deficit, but put the Panthers up by three at 38-35 going into the half.

“When we went into halftime, we all said the same thing,” Weatherspoon said. “We need to show energy and we need to rebound, because this was a rebounding team. And that’s what we did. We don’t want to lose another time at home and we want to go undefeated going into Christmas. We came out in the second half and we just showed energy.”

The Hawks able to get back on not only their offensive game, but also picked things on the defensive end where a late move to get the ball out of the hands of Heritage’s Zeke Aime proved to be fruitful for Viera.

While the Hawks didn’t have their best night shooting from the outside, that was made up for by Weatherspoon’s ability to drive and create.

“My play style is I drive and I either pass and kick, or I’ll go in for a layup,” Weatherspoon said. “That usually gets the ball moving and gives us the lead. … We have a lot of shooters so that makes my job a lot easier.”

It certainly worked Thursday night. With the score tied 55-55, Weatherspoon drove the lane and was fouled on the way to making a layup. The Hawks were able to outscore Heritage 12-2 in the final five minutes and secure a solid district win.

“Late in the game, we took care of the ball for the most part and we knocked down our free throws,” Keith said.

“… Watching those guys on film on those guys, they cover a lot of space quick and on top of that, they’re so long … that’s a good win for us. We’ll take all the wins we can get.”

The Hawks are scheduled to be back in action tonight at 7 when they host Titusville (5-2) in what should be another tough challenge for Viera.