ALBION — With a weekend coming up that features the school’s girls basketball team headed to semistate and wrestlers headed to the state finals, Central Noble boys basketball made a statement of their own in a 66-55 win over Heritage: there is plenty of room for more significant athletic and on court success in Albion.
Freshman Connor Essegian played all but 59 seconds in the game and found numerous ways to hurt the Patriots despite hitting just one of 10 three pointers. In another breakout performance for Essegian, he scored a game high 23 points, added 10 rebounds and three steals in the win.
“These boys know what we are playing for,” Central Noble coach John Bodey said. “I think the win against Heritage is a good win for us.”
The game was delayed a day due to Tuesday night’s weather issues.
In the first quarter, Heritage used their dribble drive to open up outside shots that they rained down from the opening possession on. But in the closing seconds of the first quarter, Central Noble’s Ridley Zolman answered back with a three that gave the Cougars a three point lead and they wouldn’t let up from there, controlling the tempo of the game throughout.
“My personality, I want to play fast. I think it is more exciting,” Bodey said. “We have the skill players that can play fast. When we get out on the run, we are able to get our shooters going and get easier looks than grinding it out against a very good defensive team like a Heritage.”
The Cougars adapted their defense moving forward, keeping the Heritage shooters for getting a good look for much of the second quarter. Once Heritage was able to get their shooters open again, they went mostly cold for the rest of the game. Although the Patriots hit nine three pointers in the game, they shot 38 for just a 24 percent success rate from deep. Leading shooters Alex Burton and Jaydon Harris were 2-of-11 and 3-of-13 respectively.
Essegian tried to help Central Noble pull away mid-second quarter when his step back jumper at the foul line sent Burton to the floor, but the Heritage senior answered on the other end with a three pointer to tie the game at 25. On the next Heritage possession, Cameron Mitchell rebounded his own miss and powered through contact for a well earned basket while drawing the foul. He missed the free throw, but gave Heritage back the lead at 27-25.
Mitchell led Heritage with 21 points and 11 rebounds hitting a co-team high three three-pointers.
“The game plan with him was to stay back. He hit a couple of threes on us early and I told the kids that’s on me, we’ll give those up and try to stop the drive,” Bodey said.
It was the last lead, however, that the ACAC Tournament champion would have on Wednesday night. With 2:33 left in the opening half, Zolman rolled off Essegian’s down screen and pulled up at the top of the arc to bury a three pointer and give the Cougars back the lead for good. In the closing moments of the half, Essegian and Harris exchanged at the basket scores to send Central Noble to the break up 35-32.
Central Noble expanded their lead at the start of the third quarter with five straight points and led by as many as nine but with Zolman on the bench with three fouls, Heritage stormed back. Mitchell, fighting for every rebound he could, took advantage of having the less experienced Cougars on him and earned a couple of and-one opportunities. With 4:03 left in the third, Essegian ended Heritage’s run by taking a charge on a Harris basket that would have cur the Central Noble lead to two. Instead, the Cougars kept the lead at four and it never got much closer.
They led 48-44 after three.
“It was just ‘stay with what we are doing,'” Bodey said of his message heading into the final quarter.
“The gameplan was working. Ridley had three fouls going into the fourth. Play as well as we did without Ridley getting his fourth early on. Ridley being able to stay to the point where he played that whole fourth quarter with three, it kept another scoring threat in there that they had to guard.”
Essegian, who had gone cold with his jump shooting in the third, woke up as the fourth starts. After he scored at the basket, Burton hit a three to cut the Heritage deficit to three points again. As the two teams exchanged baskets early in the fourth, Mitchell continued to be a monster on the glass, helping Heritage get second, third and even fourth chances on several trips up the court. Heritage got as close as 52-50, but when Zolman converted an and-one with 6:13 left, it was a five point Heritage lead. At 4:15, Essesgian scored on a backdoor cut and pass from Carson Capps to push the lead to seven and all but finish off a cold shooting Patriot squad.
Central Noble just had to hit free throws down the stretch and when Lucas Deck hit a pair with 1:15 left, the Cougars had their first double digit lead of the night.
Zolman added 16 points and 11 rebounds. Central Noble got scoring from eight total players while six different players combined to outrebound Heritage 44-36. Essegian and Zolman were joined in double digit rebounding Deck’s 11 rebounds.
“They have to make plays. I told the kids before the game that the gameplan was, we are a bunch of nice kids and have some skill, but the key for us is we have to be a lot more aggressive than we have been,” Bodey said. “I think we are better if we are aggressive rebounding, aggressive on defense and aggressive taking the ball to the basket.”
With the postseason looming, the Cougars still have three conference games left. Currently, they sit tied for second in the Northeast Corner Conference. While catching Westview is likely out of the picture, Bodey is excited about the idea of being able to finish second in the conference.
With their win Wednesday night, Central Noble has clinched their fourth straight winning season for the first time in school history; Bodey has had a winning season in each of his three years leading the program. Just five years ago, Central Noble only won two games. Those numbers complete the statement that the Cougars are looking to make.
“I think we’ve created a culture here. These boys are hungry for success, they are very coachable and they want to do what it takes to win,” Bodey said of the team establishing their own identity among a lot of athletic success at the school. “We want the girls to do well and we want to do well too because we are pretty special too. We are sitting at 12-6, second in a very good NECC and I don’t think this team is insignificant at all.”
COMING SUNDAY: OUR FAVORITE AMPHIBIAN BOUNCE WAS IN ATTENDANCE WEDNESDAY NIGHT AT CENTRAL NOBLE. SEE WHAT HE THOUGHT OF THE GAME IN HIS WEEKLY ‘BOUNCE’S REFLECTIONS” COLUMN