CONVERSE — Northwestern’s boys basketball team will take a 12-game winning streak into next week’s Class 3A Twin Lakes Sectional.
The Purple Tigers (18-2) are hot at the right time. And after Tuesday night’s thriller, they’re battle tested.
Northwestern pulled out a 77-75 victory at Oak Hill Tuesday night, and needed three overtimes to get the win. Trenton Brazel scored all six of Northwestern’s points in the final OT session, including a driving hoop with 1.5 seconds left to win the game.
“I think it’s huge for us because really we haven’t played a serious, tough basketball game in a while,” Brazel said. “This triple overtime really made us dig deep and made us think about what we have to do in clutch time. Especially that last overtime — Dubs [point guard Kylan Dubbels] fouled out about half way through.”
Northwestern reserve guard David Alexander set up the winning play by snagging a steal with about 15 seconds left in the third overtime and the game tied at 75-all. Northwestern called timeout and set up a play where the Tigers might be able to get Tanner Thomas open for a 3-pointer, or Brazel might take a pick-and-roll option. When the defense gave him enough space to go to the hoop, he drove right and converted.
“He got a mismatch and the [defensive] hedge wasn’t quite what it had been and he was able to see daylight,” NW coach Jim Gish said.
“Oak Hill played great [Tuesday] night. We just came out and got the last play to go in.”
Oak Hill fell to 13-7 with the loss.
Brazel had a superb game, scoring a game-high 24 points. He was 4 for 4 in the third overtime from the line, accounting for Northwestern’s other points that session. Brazel also had eight rebounds, and found the ball in his hands on the last play of the game. Oak Hill called a timeout to set up a desperate final attempt, but a long pass wasn’t fielded cleanly by the Eagles and Brazel was there to snag the ball when the buzzer sounded.
“We really wanted to make an effort to get him touches and do what we could to get some mismatches against him because he is very strong and finishes well,” Gish said of Brazel. “It was our goal to give him touches, get him in space and see what he could make happen for us and he stepped up big.”
Northwestern had plenty of heroes on the evening. Thomas sent the game to the initial overtime with two free throws with 2 seconds left to make the score 60-60. He was fouled on a well-designed inbounds play as he set a screen to free the inbounder and was flattened by an Oak Hill defender. His freebies came immediately after Oak Hill’s Jace Martin hit two freebies with 2 seconds left to give Oak Hill a two-point lead.
Brazel then sent the game to a second overtime when he hit 1 of 2 freebies with 40 seconds left. And Martin sent the game to the third OT when he hit two freebies with 1.6 seconds left in the second OT.
“This group has all been about ‘we want to win’ and not worry about not losing,’” Gish said. “And that is so key because if you’re scared of losing in anything you do athletically you’re going to be scared of losing in life and you need to take some positive chances so you have positive results. Our kids they really sucked it up gutted it out.
Chase Johnson and Dubbels each scored 14 points for the Tigers, and Thomas had 13. Alexander added seven. Cody Yeakel played a key role in the first half when Dubbels first got into foul trouble, and hit a 3-pointer in the first quarter when the Tigers got a total of six treys from five different players.
Ryan Spaulding led Oak Hill with 18 points. Derek Durkes, son of former Eastern football coach Dave, had 17 points off the bench. Martin had 13 and Seth Sallee had 11.
Getting the win, and staying hot at the right time was critical to Brazel.
“It felt great,” he said. “It’s a gratifying win, triple overtime. It’s a thrill for us. I’m just glad for us and our teammates because … we have a tough sectional, we want to stay hot we don’t want to go in on a losing streak. We want to go in like we’re playing.”
Northwestern’s sectional opener is against a tough West Lafayette club, so this win serves as good preparation.
“It’s huge because this is a very good basketball team on their home floor,” Gish said. “Our draw in the sectional, I feel like we’ve got one of the better teams in our sectional, and it’s big that we’re able to go in there and understand what it takes to win.”