By Pedro Velazco
Northwestern’s boys basketball team nearly dug its way out of a 20-point hole Tuesday night against Hamilton Heights, rallying to trim the lead to just three points with 2:40 left. But when the clock hit 0:00, all the Tigers could hang their hats on was scaring the Huskies, not beating them. Heights held on for a 63-55 victory in the Tigers’ gym.
Heights (11-7) moved to 5-1 in the Mid-Indiana Conference with one league game left: at co-league leader Peru on Feb. 22. That game will be a title showdown with the winner taking the championship outright.
“It’s a good game, [Northwestern is] a hard place to play. It definitely had MIC championships on the line,” Heights coach Chad Ballenger said. “We’ve got one more to go, so it was a big game for us.”
Northwestern (10-7, 3-3 MIC) worked its way back from a 16-point halftime deficit by reducing turnovers and hitting some key hoops in the second half. Trenton Brazel closed the third quarter with a triple for Northwestern to make the HH lead 50-37, then Brazel canned another triple to start the fourth quarter. From then on, the Purple Tigers proved tough to shake.
A runner by Brazel, another trey by him and an inside hoop by Chase Johnson cut the Heights lead to 54-51 with 2:40 left, but the Tigers couldn’t draw any closer .Heights responded with a cutting hoop from Bo O’Laughlin and a drive from sophomore point guard Grant Weatherford to push the lead out to 58-51.
Brazel finished with a game-high 28 points, while Johnson had 18. Alex Etherington led Heights with 26 and Weatherford added 15.
Ballenger would rather have seen his squad close the game with the composure with which Huskies opened it.
“I thought we got really complacent and tight late instead of just keep playing,” he said. “We forced a lot instead of making easy passes. I mean, we had them on the ropes. They were trapping us and we had a few kids trying to make special plays instead of make easy plays.
“We played well in spurts so I can’t be too disappointed.”
Heights had taken control early with an offensive onslaught. The Huskies opened a 32-12 lead on a coast-to-coast dash by Weatherford with 5 minutes left in the first half. Heights strolled into halftime up 38-22 with Etherington leading the way. The inside-outside forward had 15 points in the opening half, including three triples.
“In the first half, they just came out red hot. They were hitting everything they threw up,” Northwestern coach Jim Gish said. “Etherington is obviously a very good basketball player. We want to make him a jump shooter and he hits two 3s in the first quarter. That really set the tone for the night.
“In the second half we slowed down and started making the game easier on ourselves. Once we settled down I thought we did a nice job in the second half getting the ball to Trenton and Chase in places they could score.”
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