It wasn’t a pretty 32 minutes of basketball, but the Cougars enjoyed every second of it.
The Central Noble girls dismantled Garrett 36-17 on Friday to remain unbeaten at 17-0 and keep pace with Fairfield at 7-0 in Northeast Corner Conference play.
Both teams went long stretches without scoring, but when the Cougars turn up the pressure, they can score in a hurry.
The Cougars scored the first 12 points of the game in less than three minutes and led 18-5 after the first quarter. The Railroaders never really threatened to close the gap the rest of the way.
Garrett showed signs early in the third quarter with two quick buckets from senior Bailey Kelham to cut the deficit to 10. But the Cougars turned over Garrett on the next few possessions, plus two threes from Meghan Kiebel, who ended up with nine points, and a pair of scores at the rim by Madi Vice, who led all scorers with 18, quickly pushed the lead up to 20, effectively putting the game away.
Central Noble’s defense was the story on Friday evening and has been all season. It was the third time the Cougars held an opponent under 20 points. It was the first time Garrett was held to less than 18 points in a game in over 20 years.
Slowing down Kelham is easier said than done, but Central Noble frustrated the elite talent for 32 minutes.
“That was the game plan. To make her what she got,” first-year Central Noble coach Sam Malcolm said. “We weren’t necessarily trying to take her away, we didn’t want to change much of what we do, so we just put one of our best defenders on her and try to play as good of help-side defense as we could.”
The Cougars’ plan worked to near perfection.
Kiebel was tasked with guarding Kelham and limited one of the area’s best scorers to 15 points. Kiebel and the rest of the defense kept Kelham off balance and rarely got a clean look at the rim. If it was from a few feet beyond the three-point line, or she had to dribble around three different defenders to get deep into the paint.
It was a “bittersweet” moment for Malcolm’s team to hold Kelham to 15 points, because Kelham is Malcolm’s niece.
“I’ve watched Bailey and cheered for Bailey the whole way, and I’m still cheering her for Bailey,” Malcolm said.
The defense wasn’t just good on Kelham, it was good on everyone dressed in the home whites. The Railroaders only got two points from the rest of the team and it didn’t come until late in the fourth quarter.
Central Noble prides itself on being a tough, gritty team and it’s led them to an unblemished record.
“They’re gritty. We work on being gritty in practice. We put them in tough situations. We make them work hard. We make practice harder than games. The games are getting harder though,” Malcolm said.
The schedule does get tougher. The schedule up until this point hasn’t been a gauntlet for the Cougars but there have a few worthy challengers along the way. Next week’s NECC Tournament should provide a couple of difficult matchups with potentially Eastside and Fairfield in the later rounds. The Falcons beat the Blazers by 17 on Friday night.
“It’s tournament time so it’s going to be like a sectional. Our last three games have been sectional-like. They’ve been aggressive, physical, up in your face and try to make us make mistakes, just like sectional play is,” Malcolm said.
Central Noble still has to face both of those teams in the regular season, and the Blazers and Cougars are in the same sectional.
The target is only getting bigger on the Cougars’ back as the number in the win column increases. This squad welcomes any challenger that’s willing to take their best shot.