Just when it looked like North Central was going to reel Buford in, the visiting Yellow Jackets pulled back out to sea.
Drawing within six or fewer points of Buford on four different occasions in the second and third quarters, the Knights were either unable to come up with a basket or a defensive stop as the Jackets were allowed to get away. Finally, it was the guests using a 9-0 run between the third and fourth quarters --- after NC trimmed the gap to 30-24 --- which helped pave the way to a 56-35 BHS victory at The Castle in Boonetown.
The night turned into series of near-misses for first-year Knights’ head coach Cary Phillips who saw enough open-look rimmed-out shots from his team on Tuesday to last a month.
"It’s kind of frustrating," Phillips said. "We had some good looks early in the game and we missed a bunch of them. I don’t know how many looks we had right under the basket that we couldn’t finish. That’s been a problem for us all season and, it continued tonight."
For all the misses from the paint area, the Knights (0-7 in Region 4-AA) were still within striking distance after a pair of Jay Parks free throws followed by a Delmarcus Wood short jumper drew the hosts to within 30-24 with 2:30 left in the third quarter. But as was the case all night, the Yellow Jackets had an answer. This time, it was in the form of freshman Noah Vincent, whose traditional 3-point play with 1:51 left in the third capped the scoring for the quarter as the visitors carried a 33-24 advantage into the fourth quarter.
Things would get progressively worse for NC as Buford opened the final stanza on a 6-0 run with Druw Rollings, who topped the scoring charts with 19 points, scoring the final four on a stickback and then, a short jumper. Wood temporarily stopped the bleeding with a 12-foot jumper only to have the Jackets go on a 15-0 run as the lead grew to an insurmountable 54-26 after Noah Vincent’s 10-foot jumper with 2:35 showing on the game clock.
While the Jackets trotted out three players who check in at 6-foot-2 or taller, Phillips said Buford’s size advantage was not the biggest issue his team had to overcome.
"It wasn’t so much their height as it was their intensity," said the NC head coach. "(Rollings) played really hard and our guys couldn’t match him. It’s like I told them at halftime, ‘He has more heart than you.’ He wanted it more and, it showed."
Rollings was at his best early and late in the game. In the first quarter, the junior center scored eight of Buford’s 13 points including the final fine of the quarter. Rollings’ personal run answered a 3-ball from NC senior Will Jenkins, who led the hosts with 11 points, which cut the lead to 8-7 with 1:46 left in a quarter which closed with the visitors holding a 13-7 lead.
NC would make it a one-possession game when Jenkins opened the second quarter by going out beyond the arc for a basket. BHS, though, scored five straight points to up the ante to eight at 18-10. Sophomore Jeremiah Jenkins kept the Knights close as he bracketed a 3-ball from the Jackets’ Rhylee Blackmon with a five-foot jumper and a jump hook. Senior DeMarious Reel gave the hosts the momentum heading into intermission with his two free throws at the 13.7 marker sending the teams into the break with the Jackets nursing a 21-16 lead.
The Knights looked to be in this for the long haul after a scoop layin from Parks and a jump hook from Reel came in response to a Rollings’ five-foot runner which opened the second half of play. But having cut the deficit to 23-20, Rollings knocked down a trey before a pair of NC turnovers led to baskets from Blackmon and Garrett Crenshaw --- all six points coming in a span of less than 35 seconds --- as the BHS lead ballooned to 30-20 with 4:35 to play in the third.
The aforementioned Parks free throws and Wood basket provided hope which was dashed when the Jackets came up with a 9-0, game-deciding run.
"We had guys playing hard, running the floor and doing what we ask them to do in practice," Phillips said of his team’s effort.
"At this point, it’s frustrating. We got a little more aggressive in the fourth quarter but we’re so passive with the basketball … we’re not going to score many points standing around about 30 feet from the basket."
NC (35):Jeremiah Jenkins 3 0-0 6, DeMarious Reel 1 2-6 4, Jay Parks 3 4-4 10, Will Jenkins 3 3-3 11, Markeis Barnes 1 0-0 2, Delmarcus Wood 1 0-0 2. Totals: 12 9-13 35
Score by quarters:First: BHS, 13-7; Halftime: BHS, 21-16; Third: BHS, 33-24; Three-point goals: BHS 5 (Crenshaw 2, Blackmon, Wright, Rollings), NC 2 (W. Jenkins)