Cougars burn down Pioneers
Wade Bell, Sports Writer
The North Harrison boys’ basketball team worked on final tuneups before sectional play begins next week with wins over Providence on homecoming night Friday and Austin on Saturday. The 73-45 win over the Eagles Saturday night gave the Cougars their first outright conference championship in the school’s history.
The Cougars had one remaining regular-season game, a road trip to Paoli last night (Tuesday).
Against Providence, the Cougars had a solid first half then had to fight off the Pioneers in a second-half slug fest. North Harrison came out on fire with a 14-2 run, getting threes from Logan McIntire and Kaleb Kellems. Providence didn’t score again until the 4:35 mark when Grant Williams scored inside. The Cougars followed with a 6-2 burst to lead 20-6. Providence called timeout then finished the period with a 5-2 burst to close the gap to 22-11 after one quarter.
“It was a fantastic start,” said North Harrison coach Lou Lefevre. “We were just fantastic in the first quarter on both ends of the court, and we were really good on offense the whole half. So, we got a nice lead at halftime, and we hung on. It looked like we were just hanging on. That happens often.”
Langdon Hatton scored in the paint for the Cougars to start the second period, then the Pioneers caught a little bit of traction for a 7-2 run, pulling back within single digits, 26-18. North Harrison took the ball to the paint and countered with an 8-2 burst capped off by a Hatton dunk. After the two teams traded baskets, North Harrison finished off the quarter with a 6-2 run, Sawyer Wetzel drilling a three at the buzzer for a 42-24 lead at halftime.
“We were ready to play tonight,” Lefevre said. “I hope we can be as ready to play tomorrow because tomorrow’s game is a lot more important. I hope we didn’t waste the only time we could be ready and awesome on tonight because I would have preferred it tomorrow. … ”
North Harrison kept Providence at bay through the first five minutes of the third period, then the Pioneers finally made some gains when Eli Watson scored inside and Nick Sexton converted a three-ball off a Cougars’ turnover to close the gap to 49-35. The two teams traded paint through the remainder of the period, and North Harrison’s lead was 55-40 with eight minutes to go.
Providence continued its momentum into the fourth period and made a 7-2 run, closing the gap to nine, 56-47, following another three by Sexton. Later in the period, Tyler Simmons scored inside for the Pioneers, their deficit dropping to eight. North Harrison countered with a 5-2 burst. Simmons scored inside again, but Hatton took an alley-oop pass from Ethan Oakley for a dunk that sent the North Harrison fans into a frenzy. From that point on, Providence failed to close back into single digits, and the Cougars got the 76-64 win.
The Pioneers had picked up their pace to almost hyper-drive in the second half, and Lefevre said you have to adjust to whatever the game dictates.
“They decided they wanted to make it a fast game,” he said. “If you’re a good team, you’ve got to play well fast. If a team makes it a slow game, you’ve got to play well slow. I never try to dictate the tempo. I think the team needs to be good at playing whatever the tempo the game is played at. …
“We made our share of turnovers, and we got a lot of easy baskets because we handled it well. We could have never done that last year,” he said. “We’re so much better at handling pressure this year than we were last year. It’s no comparison. We handled it well enough to get enough easy baskets to keep the lead as they were going all out.”
Hatton had another big night for the Cougars with 26 points. McIntire followed with 18, and Wetzel was solid with 16 points. North Harrison was 27 of 44 shooting from the field (61%) and 18 of 30 from the free-throw line. The Cougars finished with 13 turnovers.
“Our players have gotten so much better and smarter to do what we need to do to get (Hatton) the ball and where he needs to get it,” Lefevre said. “He’s been doing a good job of getting it, catching it, keeping it and finishing. … All of our players have been doing a terrific job of making the maneuvers where they can’t have two guys draped on him and get him the ball.
“Logan had a really good first half,” he said, “and their goal of the game was to face-guard him and not let him get the ball and get a shot. He got a whole bunch of baskets early to help him get a good start. He hasn’t been shooting as well as he has in the past, so it was nice to see him get on gear and be a little more intense on his offensive play. So, there was a lot of good things to see in this game. I’m hoping there’s a lot of good things to see tomorrow because I was a little annoyed. I would like to have these two days to get prepared for Saturday’s game and here it was and we played it well, so I’m hoping they can do it again.”
Sexton led Providence with 22, and Simmons finished with 15 points. The Pioneers also shot the ball well, hitting 27 of 52 field goals (52%) and 3-of-5 free throws. Providence finished with 11 turnovers.
“I thought they played well,” Lefevre said of Providence. “They had kids that were making plays that they don’t always make because they really wanted to win the game … They were keeping the pressure on us, and they were going a zillion miles an hour and making us work our butts off and not make mistakes. So, we never really had the game salted away.”
When asked about the upcoming sectional draw, Lefevre said his only hope was to be able to play on Wednesday, not Tuesday, to get that extra day of preparation. He said Silver Creek will be the obvious favorite but nothing is guaranteed come tournament time.
“I don’t even listen to the draw,” said the North Harrison coach. “We’re going to be playing somebody, and you have to be ready to play them. I’d prefer it not be Tuesday because I’d like to get an extra day to practice. If we’re going to play in the first round, at least be Wednesday, at least that’s what I hope. I’d like the bye or Wednesday. Tuesday means you’ve got less time. But we should be all right.”
“(Silver Creek is) the favorite, certainly, and everybody recognizes that they’re the strongest team in our sectional,” Lefevre said. “But we’ve been showing we can play good basketball against a variety of different teams, so we’ll go on and give it our best shot if we get to play them. There’s no guarantee we’ll get to play them. There’s other teams in the sectional who can beat us, so you can talk about Silver Creek all you want.”
Providence 11 13 16 24 – 64
North Harrison 22 20 13 21 – 76
Providence (8-8) – Sexton 22, Simmons 15, Williams 8, Wall 6, Beatty 5, Watson 5, Kaelin 3.
North Harrison (16-3) – Hatton 26, McIntire 18, Wetzel 16, Schneider 7, Kellems 5, Fessel 2, Oakley 1, Walters 1.
3-point goals – Providence 7 (Sexton 3, Beatty 1, Kaelin 1, Simmons 1, Watson 1); North Harrison 4 (McIntire 2, Kellems 1, Wetzel 1).