Snider and Northrop took care of business on Tuesday night. I expected as much going in. The way they got there though was less that predictable.
For Snider, it was a win hung on North Side’s star sophomore missing two free throws with 1.6 seconds left. There was certainly some luck in play as the Panthers didn’t play their best game of the season and did just enough to win at the end of the day even if there were some bright spots along the way from Karson Jenkins, Aidan Lambert and Jordan Lee.
Snider hung on, 60-59, to avenge their regular season loss to North Side.
“I just think that we hit just enough shots. I thought we were pretty resilient, they took away some things and got us out of character in a lot of ways but Aidan hit a couple big shots and we moved the ball just well enough and attacked just well enough,” Snider coach Jeremy Rauch said.
The first half belonged to Jenkins, who looked in the first 16 minutes as smooth as he has all season. Lambert, his cohort, was limited to a single made basket in the first half. He struggled with turnovers including a blown fast break with the footsteps of Brauntae Johnson lingering behind him. Still, had Lambert not started to find a groove in the second half, including a couple of huge three pointers, the Panthers would be cleaning out their lockers tomorrow instead of preparing for DeKalb. Lee needs praise too; after not playing for a couple of games, he was given the opportunity to shine and he did just that. Perhaps the biggest energy moment of the game in the first half came from Lee, knocking down a three pointer while drawing a foul to go with it.
“Man, Jordan Lee…has kept a positive attitude, has been locked into his assignments and comes in and hits a couple of shots,” Rauch said. “Does a really nice job on their shooter and has a that big shot at the end of the third.”
North Side absolutely dominated the boards and if the Legends were able to convert at any better of a rate at the rim, they could have run away with game. North Side didn’t do enough to win but did do a lot that was good. The second half of play with Michael Dye on Jenkins was eye opening as Dye was able to shadow Jenkins around the court really lock him down after the Snider senior’s stellar 20-plus point first half.
While Dye’s defense and Johnson’s return to the lineup were noteworthy, it was Ryan Collins who almost willed North Side to their first Sectional round win since 2018. Collins hit big shot after big shot, seesawing momentum between the two teams and clearly showcasing that the ice in his veins was real. A great showcase of a senior that absolutely wasn’t ready for his high school career to be over, Collins gave every inch of his being on Tuesday night. It made his slow, lingering walk across the paint after the final buzzer that much more difficult to watch; a senior who left it all out there but ended their career with a loss.
Fouls dictated the end of the first game of the night. Jordan Green’s free throws with 29 seconds left put North up, then Jenkins gave Snider back the lead with 15.8 seconds left hitting two of his own. With 11 seconds to go, North Side got off a shot that didn’t go but after being knocked out of bounds, they had another chance. A foul on that next shot sent Johnson to the line with that 1.6 seconds left; he missed both.
Snider celebrated in public. But something tells me there were a lot of deep breaths taken when they got to the locker room and probably more than a few gray hairs sprouted on Rauch’s head.
“When we can hang our hats on defense, we know eventually we are going to work out some kinks offensively and we are going to be able to score,” Rauch said. “I think we just have to be a lot more patient and a lot more aware. I thought we were way too rushed, tried to force things that weren’t always there. We’ll go back at the tape and we’ll look at that type of stuff, but we get that opportunity so I am proud of that.”
Also, it has to be said that 3 of the 4 quarters were ended with buzzer beaters. Greg Banks beat the first buzzer for North Side, while Lambert’s first basket beat the second quarter buzzer and Lee put in a shot just before the third quarter ended.
Jenkins ended with 26 points while Lambert added 15 and Lee scored nine.
The hype and energy of the first game wasn’t something you could question and I feel like East Noble built on that for the second game.
Because let’s be honest, who had Northrop only scoring 21 points in the first half? They did lead East Noble 21-19 at the break but the Knights had led with 41 seconds left after starting the game down 13-2. East Noble held Northrop to just six points in the second quarter and Jalen Jackson to just seven first half points. The second half was much different offensively with Northrop holding a 62-53 advantage to win 83-72.
East Noble almost dared someone other then Jackson to beat them and some guys answered, specifically Roosevelt Norfleet who scored eight first quarter points for Northrop including the opening three of the game.
A second half zone full court press for Northrop sped up the game significantly and at that point, East Noble started to struggle and eventually run out of steam but never effort. The Bruins led 50-37 with 1:14 to play in the third and then in the fourth as East Noble threatened, Devin Campos started heating up with timely makes.
The night though belonged to Jackson and Chris Hood. Northrop threw a lot of things at Hood all night with little to zero success. Coming into the game, it was a common thought that Northrop had nothing to match up with the East Noble big man. Time and time again, the Knights worked the post and Hood was there to finish. Even when Northrop did answer with a Dalman Alexander block on a handful of occasions, the ball always ended up right back in Hood’s hands for a second chance basket. Hood ended, unofficially, with 33 points and put on one of the best big man scoring games seen by someone not named Caleb Furst in the area in years.
Finally, there was Jackson. An East Noble box-and-one eliminated much of his impact in the first half where Jackson had just seven points but just two made field goals. The second half? Well remember when I said Collins from North Side was a senior who did whatever it took to not see his career end? Jackson dialed that same thought up to 11. With a two point halftime lead, Jackson clearly took it personally to not let the game end close or low scoring. He scored 30 points just by himself in the second half, often taking off with a defensive rebound and just outpacing everyone down the court for a basket. Jackson’s tempo was a rare kind of driven in the second half. He had zero interest in losing on Tuesday night and finished with 37 points and 16 rebounds.
The wins set up a Friday night in DeKalb with such an interwoven storyline from the past decade. Snider will take on host DeKalb and that has its own history. While Jeremy Rauch coached at DeKalb before he took over at Snider, the program is now headed up by Marty Beasley, who has had quite the coaching rivalry with Rauch in recent years. The second semi final is also covered in Beasley’s fingerprints as his former team Carroll battles Northrop, led by Jackson who was Beasley’s best player a year ago. Should Snider and Northrop both win again, it sets up a rematch of 2020’s just pre-Covid Sectional title game, then won by Snider.
So yeah, there is a lot about Friday that is interesting.
For now though, the two teams will just go back to preparation mode with plenty of room for growth and things to build on out of Tuesday’s unique evening games.
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