ELNORA — Wednesday night’s game at the Cougar Den looked like a blowout midway through the third quarter, but North Daviess still needed to make a few clutch free throws in the final minute.
The Cougars (9-9, 4-2 Southwestern Indiana) defeated North Central (Farmersburg) (5-9, 2-4) 68-57 behind a total team effort on the offensive end for North Daviess’ third win in its last four games. Despite the victory, questions remain for the Cougars after they had trouble closing the game out in the final minutes.
Entering the fourth quarter, North Daviess held a commanding 47-32 lead, and despite a 14-4 North Central run to end the third quarter, the game appeared to be all but over. Nobody told the Thunderbirds. North Central trailed by between 12-15 most of the quarter, but with two minutes left, Kelby Byrer split a pair of free throws to push the lead to 61-46. Mitchell Peterson made a jumper and and Dusten Cook answered with a jumper off his own.
North Central’s Andrew Nikirk made a 3-pointer and split a pair of free throws and Austin Jewell made two free throws to cut the once 25-point lead to nine with 1:02 to play. The Cougars made matters worse worse when Alex Wittmer was called for a five-second violation. Jewell hit a 3-pointer from the corner to cut the lead to 63-57 — the closest the Thunderbirds had been since the first quarter. Coach Brent Dalrymple called a timeout and the Cougars calmed themselves. Wittmer made three of four free throws and Cook sank two foul shots of his own to close out the win.
“We don’t have those leaders that will step up,” Dalrymple said. “When one bad things happen, we put our heads down and let it continue to happen. We don’t get where we are supposed to be and then another thing happens. We are competitors and fighters, but when it’s on the line — we just have to watch film and continue to try and figure it out.”
North Daviess and senior forward Kelby Byrer shot out of a cannon to start the game and North Central didn’t know how to handle the explosive forward. Byrer scored 12 of the Cougars’ 18 first quarter points to lead North Daviess to an 18-10 lead. Dusten Cook added four points and Austin Buehler had two points of his own. In the second quarter, Byrer was held in check, but the rest of the Cougars go involved.
Senior guard Alex Wittmer scored eight points, including two 3-pointers to lead North Daviess to a 15-8 advantage in the quarter on its way to a 33-18 lead at halftime. Freshman guard Jaylen Lengacher added four points, Brady Helms had two and Zach Moore split a pair of free throws to help the Cougars take complete control of the game.
“We did what we wanted to do for the most part in the first half,” Dalrymple said.
Out of the locker room at halftime, the Thunderbirds had no answer for North Daviess’ bigs in the paint. the cougars opened the second half on a 10-0 run with four points from Moore, two each from Buehler and Byrer and a jumper from Wittmer to push the lead to 43-18. While it looked as if the Cougars were ready to run North Central out of the gym, the Thunderbirds responded with a 14-4 to end the quarter with five points from Austin Jewell and four from Andrew Nikirk, but North Daviess still held a 47-32 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Dalrymple said he will watch the film to see what went wrong in the last one and a half quarters. North Daviess has just three games left in the regular season and will host White River Valley Friday night for Senior Night. Wittmer and Byrer led the Cougars with 20 points each, Austin Buehler and Cook had eight points each, Jaylen Lengacher added seven, Zach Moore had five and Brady Helms had two points.
“We were rolling and it felt great and now we’re right back to where we had been,” Dalrymple said. “