Tuesday night’s first round district matchup with Battle Creek Central took 4 minutes longer than what Loy Norrix coach Matt Covault would’ve liked, but his Knights kept up enough defensive pressure in overtime to pull out a 35-33 victory.
“We did our job defensively,” said Covault, “Holding them to 33 is pretty exceptional… of course, you’d like to score more than 35 when you do it though.”
Norrix jumped out to an 8-2 lead midway through the first quarter, but the Bearcats fought back to pull ahead at the end of the first quarter, 12-10.
When the second quarter started, both teams began their struggles with putting the ball in the hoop. Just after the two minute mark of the quarter, Central finally scored the first points of the quarter, and followed it up shortly after with another bucket to take a 16-10 lead. But it would be the Bearcats’ last points of the half.
The Knights, on the other hand, took nearly 5 minutes in the second quarter to score their first points when Steffon Dunigan finally broke the scoring drought. The next time down the court, Michael Hughes got a tip in off a missed jumper for the Knights’ only other score from the floor in the quarter. DQ Miles knocked down two free throws with 2:23 remaining in the quarter to tie up the game and finish the first half scoring with both teams tied at 16.
Switching ends of the floor didn’t seem to end the shooting woes of either team in the second half, as it took Norrix nearly 3 minutes to nail their first bucket, a Nmeso Nnebedum three pointer, to regain the lead at 19-18. From there, the only points the Knights would score in the next 9:55 would come from the free throw line.
“Nmeso kept us in it in the second half and overtime with his free throw shooting,” said Covault, giving credit to the junior guard who made 7 of 8 from the line in the second half and overtime.
Even though Battle Creek Central struggled to put the ball in the hoop, they were able to get a last second tip-in as the third quarter horn sounded to take a 27-24 lead into the fourth quarter.
A layup by Central’s Josh Mann off a Loy Norrix turnover 3 minutes into the fourth quarter would be the final bucket from the floor that the Bearcats would score in regulation, as they fell back into a stalling offense with their guards.
Loy Norrix used 3 Nnebedum free throws along with a DQ Miles bucket in the fourth to tie the game up at 29 with 3:12 to play.
The Bearcats once again held the ball out top in their stall offense until a foul sent JuaraE’ Robinson to the free throw line with 2:10 remaining. Robinson made both shots from the charity stripe to put the Bearcats up 31-29.
Norrix pushed the ball up the court and found Zack Sims down low for a quick bucket to tie the game back up with 1:50 to go.
“Sims scored a huge bucket for us at the end,” said Covault, “ And he played great defense for us when we needed it most.”
After a timeout, Central once again dropped back into their stall, prepared to settle for the final shot. It was Norrix’s crushing defense that kept the Bearcats from getting off a quality shot in the closing seconds, sending the game to overtime tied at 31.
Neither team changed up their strategy in the extra period, as Norrix used their penetration against the Bearcats’ defense to get Nnebedum to the free throw line just :19 into overtime, and following two makes, the Knights held a 33-31 lead. Following a Loy Norrix turnover nearly a minute later, Battle Creek’s Jermaine Morris dropped in a bucket to tie up the game at 33.
After a Loy Norrix timeout with just over two minutes to play, the Knights took a page out of the Battle Creek playbook and fell back into a stalling offense. Senior Donquarius Miles found a seam in the defense and was able to penetrate and hit a 16 foot jumper with just :56 remaining for what would be the game-winning bucket.
“DQ is a high energy guy,” said Covault, “you might not get 20 points a night from him, but you will always get an all-out, 100% effort from him.”
“It’s March Madness,” said Covault, “It wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take whatever we can get and move on. We’ve said all along, ‘One more practice’. We get one more practice tomorrow and we’ll get ready for Wednesday.”
Loy Norrix Scoring
Nmeso Nnebedum – 10
Michael Hughes – 9
Steffon Dunigan – 7
DQ Miles – 7
Zack Sims – 2
Battle Creek Scoring
Josh Mann – 9
KeOndre Glass – 8
Thomas Lee – 6
Jermain Morris – 4
Greg Miller – 2
Koby Dixon – 2
JuaraE’ Robinson – 2
Story and photos by Brett Beier