Players sat staggered on three rows of bleachers in Hamilton High School’s gymnasium, masks remaining on their faces unless taking a drink of water.
The crowd of about 20 Husky parents sat across from the Hamilton and Perry boys’ basketball teams. There were no student-led chants. There were no cheerleaders or members of the school band.
It was the type of atmosphere one would imagine with strict guidelines in place for the start of the 2021 basketball season, in which Perry won 57-47 over district-rival Hamilton.
“It was kind of weird,” Perry coach Sam Duane said. “When we went on a run, we didn’t have that crowd to get us pumped up. We told our guys we had to bring our own energy.”
Playing in masks is something the Pumas had become accustomed to over the course of the last month of practice, when Duane made it a point of emphasis in case it became a rule for the season to take place. That ultimately paid off, as Perry players agreed they no longer struggled to wear them.
“We’ve been practicing with the masks on so it’s alright,” Anderson said. “But not having my family there to support me, it made it feel more like a practice or scrimmage.”
Led by Anderson and senior point guard Christian Tucker, Perry established its defensive presence from the opening tip, holding the Huskies to just six points in the opening quarter. But it also took time for the Pumas to find a rhythm on the offensive end of the floor, as Hamilton matched Perry’s defense with strong play of its own.
Both teams started to find the bottom of the net in the second quarter, but Perry managed to pull away. The Pumas maintained a double-digit lead throughout the contest, at one point extending it to as many as 15 points in the third.
Hamilton, meanwhile, managed to remain in contention thanks to five different players scoring 5 or more points. Senior guard Adrian Galindo led the way with 12 points, while junior power forward Aaron Foote added 9 points of his own and 8 rebounds.
But Perry’s size advantage at every position played a key role in keeping its lead.
“We got stops on defense, took care of the ball and knocked down shots when we were open,” Tucker said. “Personally, I just give it my all whenever I step on the floor and do what it takes to help my team win.”
Duane referred to Tucker as having a floor general role in Perry’s starting lineup, and he proved to be key against Hamilton Tuesday night.
The senior made plays on both ends of the court, nearly eclipsing the double-double mark to open the season. Tucker had 9 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists, most of which to Anderson and sophomore wing Cody Williams, who had a team-high 19 points and 6 rebounds.
Perry — among other teams — thought they wouldn’t be able to compete at all this season after the AIA initially voted against having the season. Now a week later, the Pumas opened an unusual season with a momentum-building win.
“For the first game, it’s different for everyone,” Duane said. “But I we will all learn as we go on and games will get better and better.”