December 30 — With two minutes remaining, University and North are tied at 51 in a non-conference matchup.
Then Ethan Nowak spoke out.
The big man drove to the basket for a layup and gave the preppers the lead before jumping a pass in midcourt to make it a two-score game without challenging the paint.
Josh Belcher hit a free throw to freeze the game in the closing minutes and University held off a spirited Rangers team 58-54.
University (7-2) got off to a slow start as they made it through the first quarter. The biggest problem was trying to find an answer to his 1-2-2 zone in the North.
Coach Sean McDonnell knows his team can pull the points together if they want, but they need to open themselves up with passes to be successful.
“We like to play fast on both ends of the floor,” said McDonnell. “They found some ways to slow us down in the zone. We could shoot it, but that first quarter was stuck in the mud.”
The preppers switched to a full-court press with two players flying toward the ball. This forced several Rangers to make turnovers and allowed the Preppers to go on a 12-2 run to close out the half.
Trailing early in the 3rd inning, North slowly regained confidence and Stevie Siekaniec 3 beat the third quarter buzzer to tie at 39 as the game advanced to the 4th.
Both teams exchanged buckets early and frequently in the fourth, each finding shots from beyond the fall.
With the game tied at 51, University rested with leading scorer Justin Belcher on the bench.
However, McDonnell knew that his team had several different scorers that could be a factor when called up. They called on Nowak when they needed it.
“Ethan is a player we ask for a lot and took over today as needed,” McDonnell said. “He supports us on defense and rebounding.”
Nowak finished with a team-high 18 points and 8 boards. He got a tough job throughout the contest when he faced Rangers’ Sean Register in the paint.
In addition to the pressure of needing a quick score to take the lead in the second half, he knew he needed to answer the call.
“In these scenarios, it’s important to make plays that spice up the team,” Nowak said. “If you’re not scoring goals, it’s about passing and playing on the board to lead the team. It happened to be my point to make it for us tonight.”
Belcher also finished with a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Preppers.
Despite the deficit, for the Rangers (2-6), coach Clint Nicholson liked how his team fought back. The Rangers began making extra passes and found an open man under pressure across the court.
But it’s a matter of now to incorporate it into the game as a whole and start turning these close battles into victories.
“It shows that we have the guts,” Nicholson said. , is what we’re working on right now, we need to be able to put together a full game, not just a little of it.”
For North it was another double-double for the register who had 29 points and 17 boards.
Rangers are now taking a week off from the game before traveling to Kenston on January 6th for the WRC contest. The university will host Trinity when he appears in court on January 3rd.