By Gregg A. Sims
It took North Daviess senior Nick Crays about 16 minutes of basketball to get warmed after having not played a game since January of last winter.
The North Daviess guard returned after knee surgery to score 21 points as the Cougars defeated Washington Catholic, 74-48, at the Birdcage Saturday in the North Daviess season opener.
“The kid really hasn’t played a game since January 12,” North Daviess coach Brent Dalrymple said. “People forget that he didn’t have a summer, he didn’t have a fall. This is the first time that he has played in nine months.”
Crays is recovering from surgery on both knees that took him out of basketball following the Shakamak game last January. While he played most of the game Saturday, he is still not on a full time practice schedule and could be limited on the second night of some earlier back-to-back weekends.
The Cougar senior had six points at halftime as North Daviess led the Cardinals (1-1), 26-19,
But the outcome was less dramatic after the opening 2:15 of the third quarter as North Daviess scored the first 10 points.
Wes Lengacher, who co-led the Cougars with 21 points, opened the half with a three-pointer that was soon followed by Adam Wagler with a three of his own.
Kelby Byrer continued the run with a basket that was again followed by Wagler, and the Cougars owned a 36-19 lead.
The run was stopped by TJ Hill, who paced the Cardinals with 16 points, with Washington Catholic’s first hoop at the 5:45 mark of the third.
“We really struggled in the first three minutes of the third quarter,” Washington Catholic coach John Howell said. “(Wes) Lengacher made that three, and he really got hot.”
The teams traded baskets through the remainder of the quarter, giving North Daviess a 47-33 lead.
The Cougars then forced Washington Catholic into turnovers, the Cardinals made 25, to begin the fourth quarter.
“I thought the game really came down to turnovers,” Howell said. “The second half we really turned the ball over too much. We gave them way too many easy basket opportunities.”
Crays took advantage with 13 of his points in the fourth before he left the game with 2:04 to play and North Daviess holding a 69-42 lead.
“We’ve been saying that we’re going to get better in games because that’s the time that we really see each other,” Dalrymple said. “I think if you look at the progress of the game, we got better.”
Washington Catholic led early, and played the Cougars close despite losing Colton Reed early to foul trouble.
Reed, who finished with 11 points, collected his second foul in the first quarter with 3:48 to play, and stayed on the Cardinal bench the remainder of the first quarter. He returned to start the second, but was called for his third with 3:53 to play in the half.
He joined Lengacher on the sideline after the North Daviess senior had been called for his third foul with 5:23 to play in the half.
Despite missing Reed in the first quarter, the Cardinals only trailed 12-7 with Hill at the point and sophomore Brian Brown, who also added 13 points, having the duty of watching Crays.
Washington Catholic made its best run of the game late in the second quarter, cutting the North Daviess advantage to 21-19 on two Hill free throws with 2:02 to play.
“We did some good things throughout the game,” Howell said. “The first half, we worked hard, the kids got to the right areas, they were getting to the basket. We got into some foul trouble, and the guys off the bench came in and did a nice job.”
But the Cougars expanded that advantage in the final two minutes to the 26-19 lead by halftime, and then took command as the third quarter started.
“I don’t know that we didn’t play great in the first half, we just didn’t make any shots,” Dalrymple said. The Cougars finished 28-52 after starting the opening half at a 9-23 pace.
“To come out and hit some shots was good to see.”
There are some things we need to work on,” Howell said. “Encouraging effort. I think we’re getting better. I can’t fault anyone’s effort. I thought Brian had a tremendous game both offensively and defensively.”
“We are counting on those three guys (Crays, Lengacher and Byrer) to step up and create some things for us,” Dalrymple said. “It was nice to see those three step up. Adam Wagler (seven points and three rebounds) is very solid. He fills in where he needs to.”
NORTH DAVIESS 12 14 22 26 - 74
WASHINGTON CATHOLIC 7 12 14 15 - 48
North Daviess (74) - Crays 8 4-6 4 21, N. Woodruff 1 0-1 2 2, W. Lengacher 8 1-1 3 21, Wagler 3 0-0 4 7, Byrer 5 1-3 2 11, S. Woodruff 0 0-0 2 0, Helms 0 1-2 0 1, Cook 1 3-6 2 6, Heshelman 1 0-0 0 3, D. Lengacher 0 0-0 0 0, Buehler 1 0-0 2 2. Totals: 28 10-19 21 74.
Washington Catholic (48) - Hill 2 10-14 3 14, Brown 5 3-4 4 13, Neace 1 0-0 3 2, Reed 3 6-6 3 13, Purdue 2 1-1 4 5, Sellers 0 0-0 0 0, Strange 0 1-2 0 1, Wichman 0 0-0 0 0, Mitchell 0 0-0 2 0, Ramirez 0 0-0 0 0. Totals: 13 21-27 20 48.
3-point goals: North Daviess 8 (W. Lengacher 4, Crays 1, Wagler 1, Cook 1, Heshelman 1), Washington Catholic 1 (Reed). Technical fouls: North Daviess ( bench).