At halftime of Saturday’s NECC Tournament championship game at Westview, Central Noble coach John Bodey was none too happy.
After a quick start to the game, Bodey had watched his team be outworked, pushed around and lack intensity over a two-quarter stretch against Angola. The result? A one-point lead at halftime for the Hornets.
A simple message was delivered in the locker room.
“In the second quarter we reverted back to the first few weeks of the season when I would have said we were soft,” Bodey said. “(The team) was called that at halftime. We didn’t finish at contact well, we weren’t really ready to defend…our level of competition was pretty low in the second quarter.”
No athlete enjoys being called “soft,” especially with a second-straight NECC Tournament title on the line. The Cougars used Bodey’s word selection as motivation coming out of the break. The result? A 61-41 victory over Angola to claim the tournament championship.
Connor Essegian led all scorers with 23 points, but even he admitted that the first half, particularly that second quarter that saw a double-digit lead evaporate, wasn’t pretty.
“We started really slow,” Essegian said. “Mentally we weren’t there and we weren’t prepared. Coach got into us in the locker room and it put a fire underneath our butts.”
In a way, it was understandable that Central Noble (13-1) was a bit flat. After all, in order to reach Saturday’s final, it had to beat three teams through the week that were at or over-.500 – Lakeland, Churubusco and Westview. Against a feisty, intense opponent like the Hornets, the Cougars just did not have it early. In fact, it wasn’t until close to midway through the third quarter that Central Noble broke out.
With Angola holding a three-point lead, the Cougars went on a 19-4 run to end the quarter. Essegian, who at one point was 3-of-9 from the field, began lighting up the scoreboard and helped Central Noble to a comfortable 46-34 lead.
The Hornets (7-6) would get no closer than eight in the fourth.
“You just have to keep trucking,” said Essegian about his early shooting struggles. “The shots weren’t falling but I tried to deal with it the best I could and do what was best for the team.”
While the Cougars offense heated up after the break, it was the defense that was the catalyst. While Angola was able to get open looks and force Central Noble into some breakdowns in the first half, it was much more difficult to do both once Bodey’s team locked in. It was a lesson of perseverance. After a physical victory over Westview on Friday, Central Noble had to bring the intensity one night later. It didn’t initially, but came through when it counted.
“Two years in a row we have had a really tough road (to win this tournament),” Bodey said. “I was proud of them last year, but even more proud this year. It is hard to repeat with the road we had to go through.”
Logan Gard added 12 points and nine rebounds for the Cougars in the win. Sawyer Yoder finished with nine points. Dylan Oberlin led the Hornets with nine points.