Over the course of any long winning streak, there are bound to be times when a team doesn't play its best, yet somehow finds a way to win.
Riding a 16-game streak of its own heading into Wednesday night's York-Adams League Division I showdown at Dallastown, Northeastern couldn't have played much worse in the first half. As a result, it found itself in the rare spot of trailing at halftime, 30-26. The Bobcats, however, showed the character that's gotten them to this point of the season unblemished and rallied, knocking off the Wildcats, 71-63, pushing their undefeated record to 17-0, including 9-0 in division play. The loss for Dallastown drops it to 10-4 and 5-4.
"We weren't very good in the first half," Northeastern head coach Jon Eyster said. "I think we got caught up in the moment. If you watch the first half, it seemed like a lot of one-on-three, with us going like crazy. We ran very little, made them do very little on defense. ... We were able to survive. We did not play well and we survived the first half."
It hasn't been often this year when the Bobcats have struggled for large chunks of games, such as they did in the first half against the Wildcats. Fortunately, for Eyster and the entire team, when Northeastern has found its back up against the wall this season, it doesn't have one or two players it can turn to, but three.
Wednesday night was a case of all three stepping up for the Bobcats.
Trailing 30-26 at the break, the second half belonged to the trio of senior Brandon Coleman and juniors Antonio Rizzuto and Fred Mulbah. Together, the three combined to score 42 of the team's 45 points in the second half and 65 of the team's 71 points in the entire game.
"We know everybody on our team can contribute when it gets down to (crunch time) like that," Coleman said. "So, we just work the ball around, continue to play how we play and just try to play as a team."
Each of the three players for Northeastern found their own time to take over the second half. Coming out of the break, it was Rizzuto who knocked down three of the team's first four shots of the half to not only erase its deficit, but then grab a lead. In all, Rizzuto went 4 for 4 from the floor in the third quarter to score 10 points. He scored a team-high 26 in the contest.
Once the Bobcats had the lead, it was Mulbah's turn to dominate the game by attacking the hoop, getting a number of transition layups to help push the lead. He scored eight points himself in the third quarter, 24 in total, helping Northeastern build a 49-47 lead going into the fourth quarter, which would've been more had it not been for Donovan Catchings drilling a 35-foot 3-pointer at the horn to keep it a one-possession game.
Then, in the fourth quarter, it was Coleman's time. Not only was he a force down low on the defensive end, but he was a major contributor in getting key Dallastown players into foul trouble by constantly attacking the basket and getting to the line, finishing with 15.
By the end of it all, the sheer athleticism of the Bobcats as a whole, but Coleman, Rizzuto and Mulbah in particular, wore down the Wildcats. The lead gradually ballooned up to as much as 12 in the fourth quarter.
It wasn't the first time this season that Dallastown held tough with Northeastern for three-plus quarters but ran out of steam in the critical moments. In the first meeting of the season between the two sides at Northeastern, the Wildcats also held a lead at halftime and were within two with two minutes to play before the Bobcats closed that game on a 10-0 run. To Dallastown's credit, it's given Northeastern its two biggest scares of the season thus far.
"They have five phenomenal weapons that all do something different," Wildcats' head coach Mike Grassel said. "...But, we have seven guys that can do that, so when we're not in foul trouble, I thought in the first half we did a really nice job of following the game plan, finding shooters, making it difficult. We held them to 26 points, which, against them, that's awesome. It's like holding somebody else down to like 12."
The foul trouble ultimately came back to hurt Dallastown. It had three starters foul out of the contest, including leading scorer Brandon McGlynn, who had to exit the game with a team-high 21 points.
A positive Grassel did see from the game was the energetic play of Justin Atwood off the bench. He provided spark after spark for the Wildcats, using his height and athleticism to come up with blocks on one end that led to easy buckets and scoring runs at the other.
Northeastern will look to make it a perfect 18-0 start when it hosts Central York on Friday, while Dallastown will look to stay afloat in a tough Division I with a home game against York High.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com