After watching a once-steady lead melt away, the Loy Norrix boys’ basketball team got back to what gave it the lead in the first place.
The Knights got big.
Having once led by as many as 11 points in the third quarter, the Knights suddenly trailed 38-36 midway through the fourth quarter. But back-to-back three-point plays by senior Forward Michael Hughes helped Norrix regain the lead for good, eventually beating SMAC cross-division foe Portage Central, 49-42.
“Mike’s a senior; he’s seen a lot of playing time. He knew the situation we were in, and he came up huge for us,” said Loy Norrix head coach Matt Covault.
In addition to the post play, Loy Norrix (7-5) was clutch down the stretch on the free-throw line, connecting on 7-of-11 tries from the stripe.
“Anytime you beat Portage Central on their home floor, you’re doing something right,” Covault said. “So I’m proud of our guys for not folding. Basketball is a game of runs and momentum. They definitely had the momentum late in the fourth, but I’m really proud of the way our guys responded. We didn’t panic, didn’t turn it over. Really proud of the way they handled that adversity.”
Loy Norrix held a significant height advantage over Portage Central, which already entered the game without junior big man Max Longman, and then lost senior Max Godsil to a left knee injury in the first quarter.
That height advantage showed itself near the basket, where the Knights dominated both the offensive and defensive glass. Second-chance opportunities proved critical for Loy Norrix, with 14 of their 34 rebounds coming on the offensive end. In total, Loy Norrix outrebounded Portage Central 34-18.
“Obviously we had a size advantage, so that played into it, but I thought our guys were really hungry,” Covault said. “I was happy they stayed aggressive and kept going after it, even after misses.”
Leading the way offensively for Loy Norrix was junior Steffon Dunigan, with a game-high 15 points. Hughes had 13 points, and Nmeso Nnebedum was also in double figures, with 11 points.
For Portage Central (7-6), Griffin Baker scored 11 points, and was effective in helping the Mustangs break a tough press from Loy Norrix. Luke Leto scored 9 points, and had an emphatic dunk following an inbound steal in the fourth quarter that energized the Mustang bench. Leto’s three-pointer late in the fourth quarter gave Portage Central its last lead, 38-36.
While the Mustangs got a balanced scoring effort, coach Ray Robinson knows his team could be facing an uphill battle without a pair of its post players.
“We couldn’t score any points in the paint,” Robinson said. “That’s an adjustment we’re going to have to make, because we don’t know when we’re going to get those guys back.
“One of our strengths was our bench, and now we’re going to have to learn how to play without that size off the bench.”
That will include rebounding, as Portage Central was limited to three offensive rebounds.
“[Loy Norrix] killed us on the glass, and getting the ball inside,” Robinson said. “That’s something we’re going to have to adjust to. Bust out the old box-out drills.”
For Loy Norrix, the ability to maintain an inside presence will be put to the test on Friday, when the Knights host Mattawan – one of the taller teams in the SMAC. If Tuesday night was any indication, the Knights appear ready for the challenge.
“We’re going to need everything we can get; it’s going to be a big challenge for us,” Covault said. “Every win is a boost of confidence. It’s tough in the SMAC to win games, especially on the road. So we’ll take anything we can get.”
Portage Central 10 8 10 14 – 42
Loy Norrix 10 11 13 15 – 49
Donquarius Miles – 4 points
Nmeso Nnebedum – 11 points
Jordan Larkin – 6 points
Steffon Dunigan – 15 points
Michael Hughes – 13 points
Griffin Baker – 11 points, 3 assists
Eli Potts – 7 points
Jason Mih – 7 points
Colin Palmer – 8 points, 3 rebounds
Luke Leto – 9 points, 4 rebounds
Photos by Brett Beier