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Comeback falls short on road for Knights

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

HUNTINGTON – Friday night’s duel between Class A No. 12 ranked Southwood and Huntington North eventually came down to a bit of one-upmanship.

A pair of late-game three-pointers from the Vikings’ Zach Daugherty preceded one from the Knights’ Carson Blair, but in the end, it was Huntington North that survived a wild battle to remain unbeaten on the season, winning 49-46.

Leading by as many as 17 points in the first half, the Vikings saw every bit of that lead crumble with Southwood eventually going ahead by six points in the fourth quarter.

However, Daugherty would connect on two threes as part of an 8-0 run in the final frame, the latter of which gave the Vikings a 45-43 lead with 1:43 to go.

Blair responded in kind, burying his own long-range bomb 14 seconds later to give Southwood back a 46-45 lead, but Hank Pulver’s free-throw line floater with 1:09 left would put Huntington North ahead for good at 47-46.

Daugherty, who battled foul trouble all night long, played just 16 minutes in the contest and finished with six points, but those two baskets were the difference in a frantic finale.

“One big difference (was) that Zach Daugherty was not on the floor. He’s not afraid to make plays,” Huntington North head coach Craig Teagle said. “He’s not afraid of the moment.

“We played not to lose in the second half. You can’t play that way.”

The Vikings built up a commanding lead in the first half, but a half-court heave from Blair beat the buzzer for the Knights and allowed them to take momentum into the locker room at halftime trailing 28-14.

Southwood took full advantage of the change in tide, scoring the first eight points of the third quarter and, in total, unleashing a 32-9 run across three quarter to turn a 17-point deficit into a six-point lead.

“I think it was more about tempo,” Southwood head coach John Burrus said. “…It helped, too, that (Carson) Blair got going a little bit. I think Blair, as far as I was concerned, he was the best offensive guard out there. If you put him against about any team we play, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a better offensive player.”

Huntington North’s comeback, though, was nearly for naught. After Pulver’s jumper, the Vikings fouled Southwood’s Matt Nose, sending him to the line for two free throws and a chance to take the lead with 31.3 seconds left.

The senior would miss both freebies as the visitors finished just 4-of-9 from the charity stripe. Mitchell Geller, who poured in a team-high 21 points, connected on both of his free throws for the Vikings to push the lead to 49-46 with 26.8 seconds left.

Blair would get off a three-point attempt on the ensuing possession, but it would come up short and Joe Stoffel would collect the rebound for Huntington North. Facing a one-and-one situation, the senior guard would miss the first free throw and the Knights would rebound before calling a timeout.

Southwood would again get another look to tie the game, this time with Ethen Roberts firing up an open three-pointer that would miss before falling into the hands of Geller.

With a chance to ice the game away at the line with 4.6 seconds left, Geller would miss the front end of a one-and-one, offering the Knights one last chance.

Southwood would advance the ball to midcourt before calling a timeout with 2.6 seconds left. On the inbounds, the Vikings elected to foul Blair rather than allow a potential game-tying three-point shot. Facing a one-and-one situation himself with 1.6 seconds left, Blair would miss the first free throw and the Vikings would escape with the win.

“We just have to take this as a lesson that you play 32 minutes and you can’t let up and you can’t play not to lose,” Teagle said. “You have to go out there and try to make plays. And in saying all this, Southwood’s a really good basketball team and they’re going to win a lot of games. They’ve still got a little football in them. In two weeks, they won’t even be the same team. They’ll be hitting shots the whole game instead of just in a half.”

For as poor as much of the second half went for the Vikings, the first half hardly could have gone better.

After falling behind 4-1 on a Peyton Trexler three-pointer, Huntington North scored the next nine points to lead 10-4.

Blair nearly gave the Knights a boost heading into the second frame as his 70-foot three-pointer hit nothing but net but was waved off by the officials for coming after the buzzer.

Instead, the Vikings continued their run, scoring seven of the first nine points of the second frame to extend the lead to 17-6 with 5:03 left in the frame, forcing a Knight timeout after an and-one from Geller. Huntington North continued piling on throughout the quarter, limiting the Knights to just 21.7 percent shooting in the first half as the margin grew to 28-11 following a pair of freebies from Trey Williams.

However, with a chance at the final shot of the half, Pulver’s three-pointer would bounce off the front rim and into the hands of Blair who evaded Geller and hoisted a shot from just beyond mid-court that bounced off the glass and in, slicing the lead to 28-14.

“What killed us, though, was the end half where we had a couple dry possessions and we shoot the ball with six seconds left on the clock,” Teagle said. “We should get the last shot. Instead, we shoot it too early, they throw a shot in, now it’s 28-14 and they have the momentum. When you go into the locker room with momentum, that carries over into the second half.

“We told them unless we dictated the first two minutes of the second half, it’s going to be a dogfight. Well…I think they scored in five seconds. I knew right then they’re going to start hit shots.”

For Southwood, the three-pointer did lift spirits, but the dissatisfaction of the first half was still evident in the locker room.

“At that point, we were still really frustrated,” Burrus said of the feeling following Blair’s buzzer-beater. “If he doesn’t hit that, we’re going in with 11 points. But our kids were resilient and they kept coming. You have to understand, too, to get that kind of lead, we put so much into getting that back. Then Huntington North, they were like ‘We’re going to have to wake up here’ and they kind of played a little bit desperate and the Daugherty kid hit two huge shots.”

The resiliency was apparent immediately in the third quarter as Dallas Holmes drove to the basket for a lay-up in the opening seconds for Southwood. Blair would connect on back-to-back threes to pull the Knights to within six at 28-22.

The two teams would trade baskets during the middle stages of the quarter with Geller converting a baseline dunk and a pair of free throws along with a lay-up from Sawyer Stoltz for Huntington North.

For Southwood, Blair would connect on a runner and Roberts would score on a lay-up to match the Vikings, but a Holmes three-pointer, a Trexler jumper and a Blair three-pointer were apart of an 8-0 run that tied the game at 34-34 heading into the fourth.

Roberts opened the fourth quarter with an old-fashioned three-point play on a runner to give Southwood it’s first lead since the first quarter. Geller would respond with an and-one of his own before back-to-back lay-ups and a pair of free throws from Trexler gave Southwood a 43-37 lead before Daughtery’s late-game threes.

Blair poured in a game-high 22 points with six three-pointers while Trexler added 12 points, four rebounds, three steals and two assists. Holmes finished with seven points, seven rebounds and four steals.

Geller’s 21 points, 10 rebounds and five assists led Huntington North. Trey Williams added eight points while Sawyer Stoltz had six points and seven rebounds.

The Knights finished 17-for-43 from the field, but shot 12-for-20 (60 percent) in the second half with five three-pointers on nine attempts.