Northmor relied on a strong defensive performance Friday night in defeating Cardington by a 46-28 margin.
The Golden Knights held their opponents to four points in the first quarter and five in the second in taking a 23-9 lead at the half and would not let Cardington get back into the game over the third and fourth quarters.
Northmor coach Zach Ruth noted that his team has relied a lot on strong defensive play over the past few years.
“The last two years, we’ve really hung our hat on that defensive nail,” he said. “Two years ago, we set the record for team defense and we broke it last year. We know offense takes time to build, so we have to work on defense.”
The coach gave credit to Cole Dille’s defense in particular, saying that he was assigned to other teams’ top offensive players in the first three games and did well in guarding them. He added that, while his team lost most of its scoring from last year due to graduation, his players are in a good position defensively, simply because they had to guard those graduated players in practice in the past.
“These kids all had to go against Tyler Kegley, Kyle Kegley, Brock Pletcher and Demetrius Johnson every day in practice and all of those are playing college sports now, so that’s why we’re a little ahead of the curve defensively.”
Against the Pirates, he was against Trey Brininger. While the Cardington sophomore led his team in scoring, he was held to nine points — four of that total coming in the opening eight minutes of action.
Unfortunately for Cardington, those four points, coming off a three-pointer and a free throw, were the team’s only offense in the first quarter. Northmor jumped out to a 6-0 lead on baskets by Blake Miller, Hunter Mariotti and Trevor Gekler. With the score 7-4, the team then finished the quarter with a flurry, getting five points from Dille and two more by Mariotti to hold a 10-point lead going into the second quarter.
Logan Randolph opened the second quarter with a three-pointer for the Golden Knights, but Cardington responded with three straight points by Avery Harper. The team would not be able to get their deficit down to single digits, though. Trailing 19-9 with two minutes left in the half, the Pirates couldn’t get back on the scoreboard, while Northmor got a basket from Miller and two Mariotti free throws to lead 23-9.
First-year Cardington basketball coach Nick Withrow, who received the job in October, noted that his team simply will need time to adjust to a new coaching staff and system.
“We just have to start buying into the system,” he said. “We’re get there; the kids are willing to work and play hard. We just have to do things a bit more efficiently and buy into the system.”
In the third quarter, Cardington opened with shots from Danny Vaught and Brandon Steckel to get back within 10 points, but could not get any closer. With the score 25-15 midway through the period, Dille drained a three-pointer and Miller connected on a free throw to make it a 14-point game again, which is how it remained going into the fourth.
Northmor effectively clinched the game in the opening minutes of that quarter, opening it with a 7-1 run that increased their lead to 20 points at 38-18. Randolph scored four of those points as the team earned its second straight KMAC win of the week after topping Danville Tuesday.
While his team is a lot different on paper that last year’s, with four starters and its top two bench players gone, Ruth noted that Northmor still is the defending league champions.
“Just like the Cleveland Cavaliers are still the Eastern Conference champs, we’re still the KMAC champs until someone is crowned,” he said. “We’re still going for our third in a row. We have to work on offense and make adjustments to get a little chemistry developed and we can be pretty good.”
Mariotti led the team with 13 points on the night, while Dille scored nine and both Randolph and Miller added eight. Brininger tallied nine for Cardington.
After the game, Withrow noted that he has a young team, which has him excited about their potential after they’ve gotten accustomed to his system.
“The exciting thing is we’re very young,” he said. “There’s a lot of potential there. It’s tough because kids have new roles, but also a new system, so it’s extra hard on them. I’m confident we’ll get there.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS