When the final buzzer sounded, it was all smiles for East Noble on Thursday night. They avenged last season’s first loss as they beat Westview 71-64 in front of a capacity crowd in Kendallville’s ‘Pit.’ It was East Noble’s sixth straight win.
The gym filled up during the junior varsity game and stayed loud throughout the varsity affair. Everyone from Westview’s famous whistler Dan Byler to East Noble alum and NBA vet Brad Miller was on hand for the big non-conference showdown that has drawn the attention of Northeast Indiana yet again in 2019.
“Obviously this is a game that people in the are look at. You have two schools with a really good basketball tradition, you have people that care about the game and you have great players.” East Noble coach Ryan Eakins said. “There is no conference on the line, there is no Sectional implications. It is just old fashioned Indiana basketball for pride, one game. And our kids remember last year’s game, we thought we gave one away and it was fun to get one back.”
East Noble never trailed in Thursday’s contest, opening up a 5-0 lead on the Warriors, who have been ranked at or near the top of Class 2A all season. When East Noble made it 10-5 on a Brent Cox basket, the place almost exploded. It wasn’t the last basket for Cox, who recently returned to action after being off the court ill for several weeks. The return of the big man was a driving catalyst in East Noble’s win on Thursday.
On Thursday, Cox scored a team high 20 points in the victory.
Westview was able to find their way in transition early while East Noble was shooting from the outside. Charlie Yoder scored the team’s first five points and ended the night with a game high 24 points, often fighting impressively through or around double and even triple team efforts from East Noble. The Knights attempted to counter Yoder with the defense of Hayden Jones, while putting the much bigger Ali Ali on Westview’s Elijah Hales.
Hales and Ali were teammates over the summer with Spiece Indy Heat Red.
“Hales has been playing in the post quite a bit recently so we wanted Ali’s length on him. And Charlie is really, really good at moving without the basketball. He cuts so well and he never stops moving and Hayden is the top of guy who can weasel his way through screens and Hayden did a great job following the scouting report,” Eakins said.
In the second quarter, Westview tried to use the size advantage of Yoder against Jones and also looked to Nick Rensberger, who found no success at that point against Cox. The Knights used three straight possession early in the quarter to pull away momentarily. Following a three from Jones and then Spencer Denton dishing to Cox inside, Ali slammed home a basket to push the lead to 21-12.
The teams traded runs with Westview getting back to 21-19 before East Noble hit back to back threes. Yoder’s ridiculous pull up with a man all over him at the halftime buzzer made it 29-25 in favor of East Noble.
And for your halftime entertainment, Westview coach Rod Yoder was given a technical foul on the way to the locker room for arguing with an official. It was a rare halftime scene to see and also set the tone for the second half. That is because the Knights came out of the locker room with a pair of technical free throws to push the lead to six points and Westview would never get closer than five points the rest of the way.
Nate Dickson’s backcut basket off a Cox pass with 6:55 left in the third pushed the lead to 10 and then as high as 14 points almost two minutes later when Cox hit an eight foot jumper after rebounding his own miss.
“Brent is so skilled, he has such good hands and he catches things not many people can catch. He rebounds the basketball and just plays solid in the middle,” Eakins said. “You can’t overstate his importance for us.”
The rest of the third and most of the fourth quarter saw Westview trying to make up ground with a 1-2-2 full court press that found some success. With each trip, however, East Noble was able to milk more time off the clock.
At the end of the third quarter, Westview’s Rensberger laid down and hard screen on Ali, allowing Yoder to hit another buzzer beater, but East Noble still led 47-40.
Westview’s press would still be their go to in the fourth and the Warriors were able to hit some big shots, often on the hands of Elijah Hales, who scored 22 in the loss. But, the Knights took their time picking apart the zone and would eventually find wide open shots by Jones or Dickson or Cox would create space down low. When the Knights would get an open opportunity down low, Westview couldn’t close space cleanly, giving East Noble a lot of and-one opportunities down the stretch.
Behind Cox’s 20 point, six rebound night, the Knights were led by 13 points each from Michael Bender, Dickson and Ali. Westview, as noted, got 24 points from Yoder and 22 points from Hales. Rensberger added seven points and five rebounds.
“When Brent got sick, people had to step up. It is cliche, but the next man up,” Eakins said. “We as a coaching staff looked at who that was going to be and the great thing is, it is everyone. We have no hesitation going to the bench.”