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Cougars hang on vs. SC

Cougars hang on vs. SC
Cougars hang on vs. SC
From the left wing, North Harrison's Eli Gutknecht prepares to make one of his key fourth-quarter 3-pointers. Photo by Brian Smith

Last Tuesday, the practices against teammates officially came to an end as cross-county foes North Harrison and South Central met on the hardwood in Ramsey.
Practices, of course, will continue throughout the season, but the season-opener for both boys’ basketball squads brought out some positives and things to tinker.
The largest lead in the tight battle was eight, held by South Central. In the end, a double-double night from North Harrison’s Braden Jenkins (17 points, 15 rebounds) was key to the Cougars holding on for a 54-51 victory. North Harrison benefited from a pair of Eli Gutknecht triples in the final few moments to complete the comeback.
‘South Central is going to make some noise in 1A this year,’ North Harrison coach Kevin Jones said. ‘They are tough to play against. In the past, we were able to turn them over a bunch. Tonight, we weren’t able to turn them over and get in transition. Ethan (Oakley) and Braden hit a couple big free throws at the end. We made just enough plays to hold them off.’
Inside 2-1/2 minutes to play, South Central’s Brandon Summers swished a 3-pointer to put the visitors up 47-44. The next two possessions, however, swung the game to North Harrison. From the left wing, Gutknecht buried consecutive 3-pointers to put his team ahead 50-49 with 1:24 to play.
‘We are going to need Eli to stretch the court,’ Jones said. ‘If Eli can stretch the court, it keeps (our opponent) from standing in the lane. When he can step out there and be a threat is huge. Those last two 3s he hit to tie it and take the lead, he was wide open. He had good looks and took them.’
After a South Central offensive foul, North Harrison’s Oakley, a 6-foot-7 freshman, netted a pair of freebies. South Central cut into the lead with a Wesley Wilson bucket via Lucas Stewart with 32 seconds left. North Harrison pushed the margin to the final score with a pair of Jenkins’ freebies.
Despite the narrow loss, South Central coach Greg Robinson was pleased with effort the Rebels displayed.
‘I think we are sneaky athletic,’ Robinson said. ‘The effort and enthusiasm we played with is what we’ve seen in practice so far. The challenge for us is to come back and keep it going. I told the kids before the game that the outcome of this game doesn’t define us as a team, but the way we play will define us as a team. We gave ourselves a good definition tonight.’
The first half tilted the way of the Rebels. Chase Schoen caught the hot hand early, making five field goals for 10 points. Good ball movement by South Central resulted in Stewart netting a 3-pointer for a 15-11 lead.
On the other end, Jenkins converted an old-fashioned 3-point play to put the Cougars within one, 15-14, at the end of one quarter.
The opening frame came at a price for the Cougars as well. With senior guard Jake Harley already sidelined with an injury, classmate Chase Johnson went down during the game with an ankle injury.
‘We got in some foul trouble early and started to scramble some,’ Jones said. ‘When we brought Chase in, he made two big plays and gets hurt. Not having Harley hurt too.’
Jenkins nearly reached his double-double status by half time. The junior had 11 points and eight boards at the break.
‘Our goal for him ‘ and it’s going to be tough ‘ is to lead the state in rebounding,’ Jones said of Jenkins. ‘Fifteen is a pretty good start.’
Dylan Patterson used his athleticism to create transition points for South Central before the half. Combined with a Stewart triple, South Central led 33-25.
‘We are a little quicker than people think,’ Robinson said. ‘The big thing for us was the way we rebounded and how we fought. We were quick to the ball in that first half.’
To dig into the Rebels’ lead, Gutknecht put in two long balls before half. He closed with 15 points, making 5 of 7 from downtown.
‘Eli can put it on the deck to go shoot 15 footers but, on his 3s, he’s a catch-and-shoot guy,’ Jones said. ‘He’s worked on other parts of his game, but his strength is shooting.’
South Central went cold in the third quarter, scoring only five points. On the flip side, North Harrison was able to muster 14 points despite five turnovers. Going inside, the 6-9 Langdon Hatton scored in the paint. Oakley stepped out for a 3-pointer as well. By the start of the fourth, North Harrison flipped a five-point deficit to a four-point lead.
‘We kept the floor much better spread in the first half,’ Robinson said. ‘We played really well in the first half. I think, in the third quarter, we started off pretty good then we lost our offensive focus for a while. We got it back there toward the end.’
South Central retook the lead briefly in the fourth but Gutknecht’s range lifted the Cougars.
Neither team put up a good percentage at the charity stripe, with South Central going 1 for 6 and North Harrison 8 for 17.
‘We had a stretch where we played well to get a four-point lead and, out of the next 10 possessions, we turned the ball over eight times,’ Jones said of the second half. ‘Twenty-one turnovers is way too many. We missed too many free throws too.’
Jones said his squad will need to improve on the defensive end. Offensively, Hatton and Oakley contributed eight and seven points, respectively. Filling in the guard duties without Harley, the Cougars got four assists and two steals from Zane Armstrong. Mason Jones had three assists.
‘We have some question marks,’ Jones said. ‘Zane has his moments, and Skyler (Wetzel) struggled to score but did other things really well. Mason had three or four assists but had three or four turnovers. We plan to be a different team come March.’
Stewart paced the Rebels with 16 points and eight rebounds. He was joined in double-figure scoring by three teammates: Summers (11), Patterson (10) and Schoen (10). Austin Tyree and Summers had four assists apiece. Patterson also had seven boards.
‘Nothing is going to be more imposing from a size standpoint that what we went up against tonight,’ Robinson said. ‘There will be some teams that can come close, but we have to now believe we are capable of playing against bigger guys.’

South Central 15 18 5 13 ‘ 51
North Harrison 14 14 14 12 ‘ 54
South Central (0-1) ‘ Lucas Stewart 16, Brandon Summers 11, Dylan Patterson 10, Chase Schoen 10, Wesley Wilson 4.
North Harrison (1-0) ‘ Braden Jenkins 17, Eli Gutknecht 15, Langdon Hatton 8, Ethan Oakley 7, Skyler Wetzel 4, Chase Johnson 2, Zane Armstrong 1.
3-point goals ‘ South Central 4 (Stewart 2, Summers 2); North Harrison 6 (Gutknecht 5, Oakley).

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