Final scores can be deceiving.
If they weren’t, and you glanced at the final score of the Northeastern-Dallastown boys’ basketball game from Friday night, then you’d get a misleading picture that the Bobcats had little trouble with the visiting Wildcats.
With a 70-58 end result in a game between two previously unbeaten teams, a 12-point win in a game of some magnitude would surely indicate a convincing performance by Northeastern.
Well, you’d be wrong.
The final score was a product of a strong final 90 seconds for the Bobcats and a discombobulated final 90 seconds for Dallastown. The other 30 minutes and 30 seconds of the game were about as tightly-contested and intense as you’d expect in a game between two teams that entered with a combined 7-0 record through the first seven days of the season.
It was a perfect display of basketball to give fans around the rest of the York-Adams League a glimpse of what each team could potentially be this season.
Coming into the year, the Wildcats were a team poised to take the next step in Division I and challenge last year’s three league tournament participants from the division — Central York, Spring Grove and York High.
Northeastern, meanwhile, was the team ready to shake up all of that after making the jump from Division II to Division I in the offseason. The Bobcats rolled through Division II unblemished a year ago en route to a 21-3 overall record. Nobody was expecting them to do the same thing in a loaded Division I against stiffer competition, but they would surely contend.
Following Friday night’s contest, the preseason expectations of both programs look like they could be true.
Dallastown already notched a win over the reigning Division I champion Panthers earlier in the week, but that was at home. Friday night’s tilt was a road contest in one of the most hostile gyms in York County for opposing teams. Rather than being timid, the Wildcats took the fight right to Northeastern and its fans.
Friday's game: A slow start was canceled out by a personal 9-0 run by Dallastown junior point guard Brandon McGlynn to grab an 11-8 lead after the opening quarter. Then, with McGlynn on the bench in foul trouble, his teammates took the Bobcats’ run-and-gun style of play and beat them at their own game, triggering a 10-2 run to go up 28-20 late in the half.
That was answered by a 6-0 run to close out the half by Northeastern, which eventually stretched out to a 21-4 run well into the third quarter. All of a sudden, with a nine-point cushion, it looked like the Bobcats were going to run away with things.
If the game was a heavyweight prize fight, then the Wildcats’ late-third quarter surge was essentially an eighth-round counter attack. Dallastown worked its way back to within five going into the fourth quarter, which set up for six minutes of back-and-forth punches.
The two sides went shot for shot in the final frame, with McGlynn eventually evening the score at 54-54. An Antonio Rizzuto corner three for Northeastern was answered by a Will Barton lay-in to make it a one-point game. Nate Wilson responded with a three of his own, which was again answered with a lay-in at the other end by the Wildcats.
That was the final gasp for Dallastown. The Bobcats closed the game out on a 10-0 run.
Final scores don’t tell the whole story. This was a game up until the closing minute.
Room to improve: Wildcats’ head coach Mike Grassel called the season “a marathon, not a sprint,” so an early-season road loss to a good team isn’t the end of the world for his team. There are few teams in the league that can go toe-to-toe with Dallastown’s depth of athletes, but Northeastern proved it’s one of them. Friday was a barometer for Grassel’s team, which is made up primarily of juniors and, while the Wildcats (4-1 overall, 1-1 D-I) showed toughness, a loss is still a loss.
“I don’t believe in moral victories,” Grassel said. “Our guys don’t believe in moral victories. We’re competitors and we want to win. …We got away from the game plan a little bit. Our goal is to be disciplined and keep them from penetrating and, as you saw, they penetrated well and that’s a credit to them. They got some great basketball players over there.”
On the flip side, Bobcats’ head coach Jon Eyster knew his team could play better. Northeastern (5-0 overall after a Saturday rout of York Suburban, 2-0 D-I) shot just 14-of-30 from the free throw line, which means, if it shot even a decent percentage at the line, then it probably wouldn’t have had to fight and claw down to the final minute for a win. The Bobcats were also uncharacteristically careless with the basketball, committing turnovers at an unusually high rate that allowed Dallastown to hang around.
“I don’t know if it was their pressure, but we just made some bad decisions,” Eyster said. “I don’t know how many turnovers we had, but when I stat it (on Saturday), it’s going to be bad. It’s a great environment, our guys were jacked up, but we didn’t play composed for what I thought most of the game.”
It’s a scary thought for the rest of the division if both coaches think that their display on Friday night was less than ideal and they still put on good performances.
Friday's battle proves that both the Bobcats and Wildcats will likely be right in the thick of things come February to earn a league tournament spot.
Both are legit and ready to shake up the Division I scene.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org.