John Bodey’s return to Garrett yields NECC Tournament title for Central Noble

GARRETT – On the surface, Saturday night’s 76-70 win was a huge NECC Tournament crowning moment for Central Noble.

Deeper than that, more emotionally than that, it was coach John Bodey’s crowning achievement in a gym and town where he developed and pushed his love of the game as a player and a coach. One of the very last moments of the night  saw Bodey climbing a ladder and cutting down the last few remnants of the net after his Cougars bested Prairie Heights. He let his players bask in the moment first, other important members of their program family, a few kids and then assistant coaches. Bodey was last, relishing every moment of unstringing that net from the rim in Railroader country.

“I will probably never get to coach another championship game in this place that I played high school ball at, coached here for nine years and we get to cut nets down in my hometown,” Bodey said. “Except for when they are playing Central Noble, I still love Garrett.”

Bodey said that playing at Garrett wasn’t lost on him or the players, telling them pregame that next time the tournament is at that location, he probably won’t be coaching and it was his last chance to cut nets down at Garrett.

“I think it was a goal all week was to get me a chance to cut down nets here,” he noted.

Central Noble’s Sawyer Yoder makes a pass around Prairie Heights defender Mike Perkins during January 18’s NECC Tournament final at Garrett.

Things started out swimmingly in Central Noble’s favor. Coming into the night, one of the most talked about matchups was in the post how Logan Gard and Prairie Heights’ Elijah Malone were going to match up. Gard hit the first shot of the game 40 seconds in with a turn around jumper over Malone. Less than two minutes later, he extended the Cougar lead to 7-4 when he stepped out to the elbow for another jumper.

By the time that Sawyer Yoder hit is second triple, wide open from the left wing with 4:12 left in the first half, the Cougars were leading 13-6. All five makes at that point (two from Gard, two from Yoder and a triple from Connor Essegian) swished through that same net that Bodey would later cut down and looked great off the hands of the shooters. Prairie Heights fired back going to the low post to Malone for a two handed slam, and-one, but it was the 6-foot-9 center’s only first half basket.

“Logan gave us a presence in there that we didn’t have to put a guard in there on him [Malone]. And it challenged him a little bit. Tonight, it challenged Malone,” Bodey said.

Instead, the Panthers leaned heavily on Mike Perkins, who scored 15 in the first half. He hit a big three with 40 seconds left in the opening quarter around a Malone screen. Prairie Heights pushed back as the Cougars couldn’t get much going, the Panthers leading 20-18, until a mini Essegian and Yoder run changed the pace again. With 1:55 left, Perkins rolled off set screens and gave Prairie Heights back a 27-25 lead with his fourth three of the game. Perkins was feeling it and scoring in stride while the rest of the Panthers weren’t in sync. Meanwhile Central Noble was getting up shots but nothing was falling and there was no offensive rebounding help.

“In the first half, our spacing wasn’t good. Defense, we wanted to down the wing ball screens. We let [Brandon] Christlieb get to the middle and we let Perkins get to the middle. Christlieb turned them into layups and Perkins turned them into jump shots,” Bodey said. “We didn’t follow the game plan of downing the ball screens well.”

Central Noble’s Logan Gard (44) gets pumped up after taking a charge during the second half of January 18’s NECC Tournament final at Garrett against Prairie Heights.

Malone didn’t wait long in the second half to score with a baby jumper that opened up the frame’s scoring and gave the Panthers a four point lead before Gard fired back with a similar make of his own. Yoder gave Central Noble back a one point lead with a triple at 6:31 of the third quarter. An Essegian layup on the break and a Yoder triple at 4:52 in the third forced a Prairie Heights timeout with a 37-32 deficit to the Cougars.

With 1:56 left in the third, Essegian extended the Cougar lead to 10 for the first time in the ball game with a triple in front of his bench. It ended a bit of a dry spell for the sophomore, who had been the star of the tournament over the week. Central Noble led 51-43 after three because of a barrage of threes and holding Perkins to just three points in the quarter.

Overall, the Cougars shot 65 percent from three point range in the game with Essegian and Yoder combining for 13 makes. Essegian was 7-of-11 while Yoder was 6-of-7.

“They are two good shooters and they are both explosive. Once they get feeling it, it is hard to stop them,” Bodey said.

“It felt pretty smooth, last game felt pretty smooth too,” Essegian said. “But it is a team effort. They got me the ball when they need to, we got them the ball when they needed the ball and it all just works out.”

The Panthers pushed their full court pressure in the fourth, drawing back within six but implementing more of a Malone focused offense. Perkins pushed to the rim on the break for an and-one with five minutes left to cut it to six but Essegian answered back with another three on the other end as the two teams just kept exchanging blows down the stretch. With 3:30 left, Essegian buried yet another three in front of the Cougar bench to give them back a 10 point lead that Seth Troyer erases with a three on the other end.

Central Noble’s Connor Essegian curls to a pass as Prairie Heights’ Brandon Christlieb gives chase during January 18’s NECC Tournament final at Garrett.

But the night belonged to the Yoder/Essegian combination. They took the game away with timely threes and finished it off at the free throw line despite a furious attempt by the Panthers to take advantage of a couple free throw misses in the closing minutes. Gard’s wide open layup off an inbounds play in the closing seconds slammed the door shut for good.

Essegian finished with a game high 34 points while Yoder added 29; the two hit 13 of their 18 three point attempts. Gard added 13 points and seven rebounds. The trio helped push the Cougars to their second ever NECC Tournament title and first since 1970, where they also beat Prairie Heights.

“This is just the beginning, we still have more work to do. This is one of the trophies we wanted,” Essegian said. “But we still want the regular season and we want to get that Sectional title.”

Prairie Heights was led by Perkins’ 23 points while Malone added 17 and Christlieb scored 15.

“I felt like we got better each day this week,” Bodey said. “It’s exciting. Central Noble hasn’t been in the final since 1977, so that is special.”

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