While Northmor led for nearly the entire duration of their 67-63 home win over Highland Tuesday night, the game wasn’t decided until the final seconds.
After trailing by 10 points early in the period and by nine with under four on the clock, the visiting Scots (7-11) got a three-pointer by Rider Minnick at the 1:01 mark to bring them within a 65-63 score. Highland quickly fouled Northmor freshman Jax Wenger, who hit one of two attempts.
Trailing by three, the Scots missed a pair of free throws on their end, but Highland would get the ball back, only to miss what would have been a game-tying three-pointer. From there, Hunter Fulk hit one of two free throws to provide Northmor (11-9) with their final margin of victory in a hard-fought Senior Night contest.
“We did not execute well down the stretch,” said Golden Knight coach Blade Tackett of those final minutes, while noting that his team’s saving grace was an ability to hit enough free throws to stay in front. “The crowd was getting into it and the guys wanted to make big plays and not smart plays.”
Tackett was more pleased by his team’s play in the early going. After a pair of Garrett Fitzpatrick baskets allowed Highland to take an early 4-3 lead, Northmor scored seven straight — three by Grant Bentley and two each from Graesin Cass and Nick Armrose — to lead by six.
Leading 12-8 after the first quarter, Northmor would add to their advantage. Seven straight points by Wenger turned a 16-13 lead into a 10-point advantage. While Highland would finish the quarter strongly, getting three-pointers by Gavin Hankins and Brock Church and two-point baskets from Hankins and Jordan Bellamy to close within a 28-23 margin.
Highland coach Christian Toombs simply felt that his team didn’t do enough in the game to get over the hump.
“We just didn’t play hard at the beginning,” he said. “We broke down mentally and just didn’t seem in sync all night. We never should have let that team do that to us. The way we played tonight, we have to fix that.”
The third quarter played out much like the second. After a Fitzpatrick basket brought the Scots within three, Northmor got four points from Cass and two from Max Lower to open up a nine-point lead. Minnick hit from the field for Highland, but Bentley responded from long range and it was a 37-27 lead for the Golden Knights.
However, Highland would fight back, getting six straight points — four from Church — to close the gap again. The teams would trade scores down the stretch of the period, but a basket and free throw from Bentley closed the scoring at 46-38 in favor of Northmor.
The home team would continue to try to widen their lead in the fourth quarter, but Highland was able to stay close until barely falling short at the end. Tackett was pleased his squad could earn a win on Senior Night for Cass, Armrose, Griffin Workman, Logan Mariotti and T.J. Diehl.
“I’m so proud of our seniors,” he said. “This group of five seniors — we’ve had so many moments off the floor. I just love to be around them.”
And the coach also is pleased with how his team is playing down the stretch in the regular season; something he considers a necessity considering they could open their postseason against four-seeded North Union.
“We’re playing our best basketball and doing it at the right time,” he said. “If we continue to get better and execute down the stretch, we have the ability to beat a team like North Union.”
After the loss, Toombs simply felt that his team needs to play well on a more consistent basis, adding that he had the impression his players let some recent success go to their heads.
“We kept digging ourselves a hole,” he said. “It was we were not doing offensively and defensively. It was on us tonight.”
Fitzpatrick led Highland with 15 points, while Bellamy tallied 14, Church contributed 12, Hankins had 11 and Minnick finished with nine. For Northmor, Bentley led all scorers with 18. Wenger had 14, Lower scored 12 and Cass added 11.
Tackett felt the crowd added a lot of atmosphere to the Senior Night game.
“I have to give a shout-out to the community,” he said. “On senior night, it was a cool environment and a packed house. We want to pack the gym and make them proud and I think we did tonight.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS