After Cardington’s Journey Williamson hit a three-pointer with 3:26 left in the third quarter, his Pirates were tied with Northmor at 30-30.
The Golden Knights then finished the game on a 21-8 run to claim the KMAC victory by a 51-38 count and improve to 7-3 in conference games.
Northmor coach Blade Tackett said that the difference came from a defensive change. Early in the game, they were doing what worked in an early-week win over East Knox, but not getting same results against Cardington.
“We realized our best defense, when you get down to it, is just man-to-man, nose-to-nose, switch everything, pressure high, anticipate the passes and our guys really showed some guts in the half-court defense and got rebounds,” he said. “When we got stops and rebounds, that led to better looks. When we were giving up offensive rebounds in the first half or they’re just beating our press and getting good looks, it didn’t lead to any offense for us.”
Pirate coach Jason Rice noted that his team simply wasn’t able to make the plays down the stretch that they had in the early going.
“I thought we got good shots, but we didn’t get the best looks we could,” he said. “I thought we started to play on our heels instead of on the balls of our feet like we were the first two-and-a-half quarters.”
For most of the first half, neither team could get an advantage. Baskets by Gavin Crockett and Williamson, as well as a pair of shots from A.J. Brehm, staked Cardington to an 8-5 lead late in the opening quarter, but Northmor responded with back-to-back baskets by Grant Bentley and Caleb Schnuerer to take a one-point lead into the second.
Shots by Bentley and Drew Hammond put Northmor up by five at 13-8, but Cardington went on a 9-3 run sparked by five Williamson points. Northmor would regain the lead at 20-17 after Hammond and Jax Wenger hit consecutive shots, but the Pirates made a couple big baskets to take a three-point lead into the half. Brehm hit from three and then A.J. Hall beat the buzzer with a deep shot to give the home team a 23-20 lead.
Hall would open the third quarter with a bucket, but Northmor quickly responded with a three-pointer by Hunter Fulk and a shot by Bentley to tie things up at 25.
Tackett noted that Fulk played a strong second half for his team.
“I have to give Hunter Fulk a lot of credit,” he said. “I get on that kid a lot. I got on him at a time out, I got on him at halftime and it’s because he can take us to the next level. He can be that X-factor type of person. We expect a lot out of him because we know he can give us a lot, so I’m proud of him for the way that he responded tonight.”
The game was still tied at 30, but Northmor finished the quarter with a 6-3 run to lead 36-33 going into the fourth. However, back-to-back threes from Bentley and Schnuerer and a bucket from Max Lower expanded that advantage to an 11-point margin and Cardington wasn’t able to recover.
“I thought that we did a great job of dictating the tempo the first two quarters,” said Rice. “Even in the third quarter, we dictated it to an extent. But in the fourth quarter, they completely dictated everything from offense to defense to execution to tempo. We just, for some reason, couldn’t get one to fall and couldn’t dictate the tempo.”
Northmor would maintain a double-digit lead down the stretch — something that pleased Tackett, whose team has been in a lot of close games this season.
“We’ve been in this situation many times before where it’s ended in late-game heroics either on our end or on the opponent’s end,” he said. “After Mount Gilead, we told the guys we didn’t play well and that’s going to happen again. We still had a chance to win down the stretch, so when it happens again, can we recognize it and can we overcome it? That’s the growth that we showed today.”
Bentley hit three three-pointers in leading the team with 17 points. Lower tallied 13 in the contest, and Fulk finished with eight.
For Cardington, Williamson tallied 12 points, while Brehm finished with nine. Rice feels the next step for his team is to simply put a full 32 minutes together.
“We have to play a full 32,” he said. “Against a team like Northmor or Centerburg or Fredericktown — some of the premier teams in the conference for a few years. I thought we played 24 good minutes. The last eight minutes, we just couldn’t put it together.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS