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No. 5 Cougars fall short in double OT

No. 5 Cougars fall short in double OT
No. 5 Cougars fall short in double OT
Photo by Brandon Miniard. North Harrison senior Logan McIntire heaves one last three against Brownstown Central defenders Friday night during overtime. The shot bounced around the rim before falling through, sending the game to a second bonus period.
Brandon Miniard, Sports Writer, [email protected]

The North Harrison Cougars started the 2021-22 season in dominant fashion, winning their first four contests. During that span, the Class 3A No. 5 Cougars averaged 57 points per game while allowing 39.2 per contest. An early highlight for the Cougars came Dec. 10 when the Cougars blew out two-time defending state champion Silver Creek 65-46 in Sellersburg.
With a flawless 4-0 record under their belts, the Cougars traveled to Jackson County on Friday night for a Mid-Southern Conference showdown with Class 3A No. 8 Brownstown Central. The matchup became an early indicator of who could win the MSC title as both squads had 4-0 overall records and were 2-0 in conference play.
The Cougars and Braves battled in front of a packed house, a duel filled with ties, lead changes and runs of all manner that needed two extra periods to decide. Ultimately, it was the defending MSC champion Cougars who fell by the barest of margins, 63-62, losing their first game of the year.
“We knew who (Brownstown Central’s) best player was (in Jack Benter), so we wanted to be super focused on being on him all the time and keep him from getting lots of points,” Cougars’ head coach Lou Lefevre said. “We weren’t able to do that.”
Junior Sawyer Wetzel kicked off the Cougars’ scoring by converting a three-point play as the Cougars jumped ahead 9-4. The Braves responded with a 9-2 run, powered primarily by a number of Cougars fouls, including three by senior center Ethan Oakley. Benter went 4 for 6 at the free-throw line as part of a six-point quarter followed by five points from Carter Waskom and a bucket from Levi Stahl.
For the Cougars, senior wing Logan McIntire had a pair of baskets while junior forward Brody Fessel had a bucket and senior guard Garrett Hoehn added two free throws before the first quarter ended with a 13-11 Braves’ edge.
The second quarter was a difficult one for a normally strong Cougars offense in the period as their only contributions came off four points from McIntire and a bucket from sophomore center Gavin Bigham. Four more fouls came courtesy of the boys in blue, including a technical foul on senior guard Kaleb Kellems, as Benter and Waskom combined to go 4 for 6 from the charity stripe as they each recorded five points in the quarter. Add in a bucket from Carson Darlage and the Braves soon retreated to the locker room with a 25-17 half-time advantage.
“The game started terribly; we had a very bad first half. Mentally, we were breaking down and getting into huge amounts of foul trouble,” Lefevre said. “We were just out of it mentally because we were upset about referees’ calls and felt like everybody was against us. We just had a bunch of guys who were complaining. When you do that, you usually can’t play very well.”
Whatever Lefevre discussed with his Cougars during the break clearly worked as they came out more disciplined on both ends in the third quarter. The trademark physical defense returned for the Cougars as the Braves managed only four points on buckets from Stahl and Waskom. The Cougars closed the deficit with another four points from McIntire, a Fessel triple, a free throw and bucket from Kellems and a freebie from Oakley to close the deficit to 29-28.
The Cougars had an injury scare to close out the period when McIntire and junior guard Riley Schneider moved for a loose ball. Schneider’s elbow made contact with McIntire’s eye, sending the latter to the ground before being helped to the bench.
“I went for (the ball) and (Schneider) was going for it as well; he just jabbed my eye,” McIntire said of the incident. “It just messed with me because for five minutes I couldn’t see straight away.”
After a Waskom three and Oakley bucket brought the score to 32-30, McIntire returned to the contest in a big way as he was fouled on a successful three-pointer. After converting the rare four-point play, Kellems stole the ball before going to the rack for a layup, alongside an Oakley mid-range jumper to take a 38-32 edge. Waskom and Benter responded with threes as the lead changed hands multiple times. The final points of the quarter came from the hands of Benter, who drilled a shot from the volleyball line to tie the game at 42.
The final minute saw the Cougars hold the ball before Fessel put up one last shot, which clanged off the rim to force overtime.
Wetzel began the bonus period by making one of two freebies, but Benter followed with a deep mid-range jumper followed by a fast-break layup off of a turnover.
With the Braves up, the Cougars were forced to intentionally foul, resulting in Fessel, Schneider and Kellems all fouling out. The sacrifices were necessary as the Braves missed just enough freebies to keep it a one-possession game. That set the stage for McIntire, who lofted one last three against pressure from multiple Braves’ defenders in the period’s final seconds. While the ball bounced on the rim as the buzzer rang, it ultimately slid through the net, whipping the Cougars’ bench into a frenzy as the clutch triple sent the game into a second overtime.
“It’s hard to tell when you need to pass or shoot; it’s just a judgment call,” McIntire said. “I just thought shooting it was the right option.”
Neither side gave much leverage in the second bonus round, spending a good portion of the period at the charity stripe. The Cougars’ best chance came after Bigham tied the contest with a layup, drawing a foul in the process. Bigham drained the bonus free throw, giving the Cougars a 62-61 edge with 19.1 seconds left but fouled trying to keep Waskom away from the basket. Waskom made the first freebie, but the second bounced into the hands of McIntire with the game tied at 62.
With time again winding down, McIntire once again seemed intent on ending things on a final shot. That shot never came as the Braves double teamed him, forcing the ball loose. McIntire tried to recover the ball, but his diving play caused him to foul Stahl in the process.
The clock showed 1.2 seconds as Stahl went to the line for two free throws, tension rising as the first freebie clanged off the rim. The fans clad in red and black acted as if they took the edge in a play-off game as Stahl’s second shot struck true. With one last possession, Wetzel was a step before the half-court line when he launched a “hail Mary” shot; it bounce left as the heavyweight bout concluded with a 63-62 double-overtime loss.
“We ended up with three starters having fouled out for the extra periods, which was not a good thing,” Lefevre said. “In the second half, we put things together and got back into the game and had a chance to win it in regulation. It would’ve been an incredible win based on how many players we had fouled out, but we didn’t make one more play to get it done.”
The Braves’ offense was powered mostly by the efforts of two players as Benter posted a game-high 33 points followed by Waskom’s 22.
McIntire led the Cougars with 24 points despite dealing with the aforementioned eye shot as well as cramps in both legs. Oakley notched 11, all in the second half.
With the loss, the Cougars watched their 15-game MSC winning streak fall by the wayside. The last time the Cougars fell in MSC play came on Jan. 11, 2020, when the Cougars lost to Scottsburg 43-38.
The Cougars will return to action Thursday, Dec. 30, when they take part in the Batesville Holiday Tournament, taking on Jennings County at noon.

North Harrison – 11 6 11 19 8 12 – 62
Brownstown – 13 12 4 13 8 13 – 63
North Harrison (4-1, 2-1 MSC) – McIntire 24, Oakley 11, Bigham 7, Fessel 7, Wetzel 6, Kellems 5, Hoehn 2.
Brownstown Central (5-0, 3-0 MSC) – Benter 33, Waskom 22, Stahl 5, Darlage 3.
3-point goals – North Harrison 3 (McIntire 2, Fessel 1); Brownstown Central 5 (Benter 3, Waskom 2).