By Bryan Gaskins
Tribune sports editor
Bunker Hill —
Northwestern forward Trenton Brazel has shown an impressive knack of earning free throw attempts, racking up 63 through the Tigers’ first five games.
The KT All-Area player made it to the line when it mattered most against Maconaquah on Friday night.
With the squads locked in a 54-all tie, Brazel cut to the basket from the right wing and received a pass from Jacob Wagner. Brazel went up, absorbed contact from the defense, and earned a trip to the line with :05 remaining. He made both attempts to lift the Tigers to a 56-54 win.
“We’ve run that play hundreds of times. It’s our go-to play,” Brazel said. “Coach [Jim Gish] said let’s go to the play at :10 and we went to it. I honestly didn’t think Wagner was going to be able to get me the ball. He got it through there and I end up looking up and I’m behind the basket, but I’m not letting anyone else know that. I go into the guy, [draw] a foul and then hit those two free throws.
“It’s a good play. It works for us. We ran it earlier and I got two points off it.”
Maconaquah called a timeout, then advanced the ball to halfcourt where it called another timeout with :02.4 remaining. The Braves saw their final play fizzle without a shot attempt.
The Tigers’ two-point win continued their trend of razor-tight games. Their six games have been decided by a total of 22 points — and they kicked off the season of suspense by playing a pair of double-OT games.
“Coach is going to have a lot of gray hair after this year,” Brazel joked. “... I wish we could just win by 10 and I get to sit out for a little bit. But beggars can’t be choosers so I’ll take the W.”
The Tigers improved to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the Mid-Indiana Conference. The Braves dropped to 3-2 and 0-1.
Maconaquah owned a 46-41 lead with 5:56 remaining, but was unable to hold on for the win.
“I always tell my guys, ‘I want it to come down to who wants the game more.’ I really didn’t think we showed it in the fourth quarter,” Mac coach Andy Steele said. “I thought we had seven solid minutes in that fourth quarter, just the last minute we didn’t really know what to do.”
Steele lamented the Braves’ defensive approach on the Tigers’ final possession.
“Obviously, No. 30 [Brazel] is probably going to be getting the ball. And for some reason, we just let him,” he said.
Northwestern jumped to an 11-2 lead and held an 11-4 lead at the close of the opening quarter as Maconaquah struggled mightily against the Tigers’ zone defense, which paid heavy attention to Mac center Micah Pier. The Braves connected on just 1 of 11 shots in the quarter, missing all five attempts from 3-point range. Pier, a 6-foot-10 center, was held without an attempt from the field in the quarter.
Northwestern’s ball security problems allowed Maconaquah to claw back into the game. The Tigers had 24 turnovers in the game, including a whopping 10 in the second quarter. The Braves forged a 22-all tie before Brazel scored on a full-court drive to the basket in the closing seconds of the opening half to give the Tigers a 24-22 lead.
Adam Harts gave the Braves their first lead (29-27) when he hit a 3-pointer at 5:23 of the third quarter and the Braves went on to lead 40-36 at the close of the quarter.
After Maconaquah went up 46-41 with 5:56 remaining, Northwestern used an 11-4 run to take a 52-50 lead at 3:37. Following ties at 52 and 54, Brazel’s free throws gave the Tigers the win.
Brazel and 6-7 center Chase Johnson keyed the 11-4 run. Brazel hit a 3-pointer and had a pair of driving layups and Johnson had a putback basket and a post basket.
“We had some veterans step up,” Gish said. “Chase really battled hard. I thought they did a good job of neutralizing him and obviously his foul trouble plagued him early in the game, so he never really got into a rhythm. But when he came back in, he took what they gave him offensively. Pier was trying to block shots and Chase was able to go to the boards and get some nice offensive putbacks for us at key times in the game.
“I thought Trenton did a nice job in the fourth quarter, hit some big shots for us as he usually does.”
Brazel scored 11 points in the final quarter. He finished with a double-double of 23 points and 10 rebounds. Johnson had nine points and eight rebounds. They led the Tigers to a 36-21 advantage on the boards.
Also for Northwestern, Logan Macaluso offered a spark with seven points on 3-of-3 shooting, all in the second quarter.
Kyle Dinn led the Braves. He came off the bench to score 14 points and grab seven rebounds.
“He’s one of those guys who just wants to get after it, play as hard as he can. If he scores two points or 14 points, he doesn’t care, he’s just a solid team player,” Steele said.
Pier had 12 points and six rebounds. The Tigers held Pier to just seven attempts from the field. Pier also missed three minutes in the final quarter with an injury. Tyler Bradley chipped in seven points but was limited by foul trouble all game, picking up two in the first two minutes of the game.