In the end it came down to four pressure free throws by untested Tony Guggina in his first real varsity play. The Tiger senior sank all four of his attempts as Northwestern prevailed over the Tri-Central Trojans 82-72 Saturday night before a packed house in the Tigers’ opener at Northwestern.

Northwestern led 74-69 before Grayson Flittner’s 3-point play narrowed the lead to 74-72. With 48 seconds to play, Guggina was fouled and he coolly stepped to the line and sank two foul shots. After a Trojan miss, Guggina was fouled again with :24 to play and again he converted both to put the game out of reach at 78-72.

Tiger coach Jim Gish had a big smile on his face as he spoke about Guggina, who scored just five varsity points last season.

“I was really proud of Tony,” he said. “For a player who was on the B-Team last year, he really had ice water in his veins. Those weren’t practice free throws out there. There was a lot of pressure. But he really came through.”

The Tigers used a balanced attack to counter a 35-point performance by Trojan senior Grayson Flittner. Four Northwestern players reached double figures, led by Zavier Sanders (20, Josh Maggard (16), Luke Daily (14), and Zach Gray (13).

“We were very unselfish tonight.” said Gish. “That was a big plus for us.”

For Trojan coach Dave Driggs, it was a frustrating night.

“We could just never get over the hump tonight,” he said. “We’d play four minutes of good basketball, and then we’d go two minutes where we would have dumb turnovers. Our concentration just wasn’t there constantly — it was there in spurts.”

Tri-Central managed to take the lead at times in each of the first three quarters but could never sustain its advantage. In a fast-paced game that saw both teams press most of the night, the Trojans suffered through 14 turnovers while the Tigers had 17.

The Tigers broke out to a 5-0 lead, but Tri-Central came right back to take an 8-7 lead when Flittner scored off an assist by Dusty Lee. But Northwestern continued to work the ball inside to Sanders and led after one 21-18, with Sanders notching 8 and Gray cashing a pair of treys. Flittner posted 8 in the period.

The Tigers drew first blood again in the second stanza and built a 27-22 advantage before TC went on a 9-0 run to reach its biggest lead of the night at 31-27. Flittner converted a 3-point play to start the run. Aided by two Tiger misses and two turnovers, the Trojans added six more on baskets by Brian Zahn, Flittner, and Shane McCorkle.

Northwestern regained control when Sanders followed his miss with a hoop, and Maggard poured in six points on two drives into the lane and two foul shots to help the Tigers to a 37-33 half-time lead.

Flittner came out hot to start the third with two 3-pointers. But Northwestern regained control as Maggard, Daily, Gray, and Kurt Dikeman each scored four in the period to put the Tigers up 56-49 after three.

Flittner tried to take control in the final stanza, scoring 12, but Sanders answered inside with six, and Daily poured in 10, including 6 of 6 from the line to set up Guggina’s heroics.

For the night, the Tigers hit 21 of 22 foul shots while the Trojans converted 20 of 22.

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