ATWATER — Golden Valley needed someone to make a play.
The Atwater boys basketball team had slowly been whittling down a 17-point halftime deficit, and the Nest erupted to life after Ben Peterson's three-point play trimmed the lead to six with 2 minutes, 50 seconds to play on Friday night.
Evan Stillahn answered the call.
The junior guard ended a 5-0 Falcon run with a good penetrating drive and layup. He then delivered the dagger on GV's next possession, burying a 3 with the shot clock winding down.
Christian Carroll (game-high 25 points) took care of the rest, draining eight straight free throws to finish off a 62-50 victory.
"That was a pretty big moment," said Stillahn, who finished with 17 points and four assists. "The layup kind of killed their momentum, and then the 3 basically put them away."
The win puts Golden Valley (2-0 Central California Conference, 15-4) all alone atop the league standings after the first week. But head coach Keith Hunter sees plenty of room for improvement.
The Cougars carried over their defensive intensity from the fourth quarter of Wednesday night's comeback win over Turlock into the first half on Friday.
GV hit its first four shots from the field and forced 14 Atwater first-half turnovers, threatening to blow the game open early.
Carroll, Stillahn and Josh Sykes (11 points) combined for 27 of the Cougars' 33 points as they took a comfortable 33-16 lead into intermission.
"I thought it was easily the most intensity and concentration we've come out of the locker room with this season," Hunter said. "Unfortunately, it wasn't the same feeling in the second half.
"We go in up 17 and relax a little bit. Atwater took full advantage."
Ben Peterson (team-high 23 points and game-high 12 rebounds) did his best to get the Falcons (1-1 CCC, 11-7) back into it.
His reverse layup cut the lead to nine with 3:33 to play. Peterson then got an offensive putback and drew the foul on Atwater's next possession to bring the home crowd to life.
Atwater wouldn't get any closer, however.
"We came out scared because it was GV," Atwater coach Tony Hillyer said. "The kids had been reading the paper and were intimidated.
"I told them at halftime to just relax. We came out against Merced with reckless abandon, and that's what I wanted to see in the second half.
"We just didn't hit enough shots. You're not going to beat Golden Valley going 2 for 26 on 3-pointers."