MOUNT GILEAD –A first-quarter surge proved crucial in boosting visiting Northmor past Mount Gilead Thursday by a 71-59 margin.
Two minutes into the game, the Indians held a 6-5 lead; however the Knights outscored their hosts 17-3 over the rest of the quarter to lead 22-9 after eight minutes. They would never relinquish that lead in taking a big league win and improving to 10-3, 6-1 in league play. MG fell to 7-5, 4-3 with the loss.
“We had some guys step up,” said Northmor coach Zach Ruth. “To try to envision what (senior transfer from Mount Gilead) Alijah Keen went through mentally coming back. He came out and played one of the better games he’s played in his career in the first half. Our bench stepped up. Lane Bachelder steps up and scores 11. Meechie (Demetrius Johnson) gets hurt a bit and Brock Pletcher had to handle the ball.”
A three-pointer by Zack Hosack and basket by Mason Mollohan helped stake the Indians to their early lead, but Northmor got scores from Pletcher, Zach Parrott and Tyler Kegley to move in front by five.
Mollohan scored for the Indians to make it 11-8 with 3:19 remaining in the opening period, but MG wouldn’t score again until Mollohan added one free throw in the final seconds of the quarter. Meanwhile, Northmor got five points from Parrott and two each from Johnson, Bachelder and Keen to take a 13-point lead into the second quarter.
Mount Gilead coach Tom Cooper noted his team’s issues came from both Northmor’s good play and his players’ questionable shot selection.
“Northmor played a really good game, especially in the first half,” he said. “Their length makes them special and makes them hard to play against. Our biggest problem in the first half was shot selection. Our guys forced way too many bad shots against 6’5” guys.”
MG had many of the same problems in the second quarter. They got off to a good start, getting baskets from Blake Ross, Mollohan and Seth Young to get with a 24-15 margin, but then suffered through another extended drought. Young’s basket came at the 5:51 mark of the period and the team’s next score would be a three-pointer by Hosack with 2:37 remaining in the half.
During that time period, Nate Hall, Keen, Johnson and Pletcher all hit from the field to boost Northmor’s lead to a 17-point margin. After Hosack’s three, they then got scores from Keen and Kegley to lead by a 36-18 margin. They would hold a 38-22 advantage at the half.
“Their role players stepped up,” said Cooper of Northmor. “Bachelder and Keen made a big difference. Our help-side defense was not good and most of their baskets were easy ones.”
Mount Gilead tried to battle back into the game in the third quarter. Trailing 40-32 after Kegley opened the third with a basket, they got a basket by Hosack and four straight points from Austin Vanderkooi to get within 12. However, Northmor got seven points by Bachelder after that to maintain an 11-point lead going into the fourth at 47-36.
“In the first half, we played aggressively, but made poor decisions,” said Cooper. “In the second half, we played aggressively and made good decisions. Austin was good in the second half, but it was too big a hole to dig out of. To our kids credit, they played hard and never quit and they made it a game.”
The Indians were able to cut Northmor’s lead to a single-digit margin in the fourth quarter. Trailing 53-41 with just over six minutes remaining, they got buckets from Vanderkooi and Bland to close within eight, but would not be able to get any closer. With the score 56-48 with five minutes to play, Northmor got four straight points from Keen and two more from Pletcher to get back up by 14. From then on, Northmor’s lead would not dip below double digits again, as they got back on track in the league.
“This is my first time as head coach we beat them here,” said Ruth. “Mount Gilead is playing as hot as anyone and to beat them with their senior leadership says a lot about our kids.”
Ruth added that with both teams having strong seasons, there was a big-game feel in Mount Gilead’s gym.
“You just love for both of these teams to play in this environment,” he said. “We were 9-3 and they were 7-4. For the kids to experience winning records like that — both teams got good support. I said before the season, Morrow County is as strong as it’s ever been.”
In the other locker room, Cooper simply feels his team has room to get stronger as a team, particularly in shooting the ball.
“This league race is not over,” he said. “Three or four losses might get a piece of the title. We just have to get better. One of these games, we’re going to shoot well. My experience tells me things will turn. Northmor has a way of making teams take bad shots. They have Division I size.”
In the game, Northmor was led by Keen and Pletcher, who both scored 16. Bachelder scored 11, Kegley had 10 and Parrott contributed nine. Mount Gilead got 16 from Vanderkooi, 12 each from Bland and Hosack and eight from Young.