Trojans race by Rebels
The Northwestern boys’ basketball game Thursday night was the kind to turn a coach’s hair a different shade.
“I’m trying not to get any grayer than I am,” joked Northwestern coach Mike Gossett after watching his Trojans race to a 75-67 win over Strom Thurmond Thursday night in the first round of the 12th annual Lindberg Moody Holiday Tournament.
The host Trojans led most of the second half by double digits, only for the Rebels to close the gap significantly with an 11-2 run in the final 1:45. The Trojans’ sloppy finish was indicative of their play throughout, as they missed 12 free throws and also turned the ball over 20-plus times in a frantically-paced, physical tussle of a game.
“It drives me crazy to watch us turn the ball over five, six times in a row,” said Gossett, referring to the final couple of minutes of Thursday night’s game. “It wasn’t anything the other team was doing, we’re just throwing one-handed passes against the wall.”
Northwestern, which last won the Moody tournament in 2008, simply had too much talent for the Rebels though. Rontavious McClure led all scorers with 18, while LaThomas Long finished with 13 and Mason Rudolph and Clenzo Ross each added 10. Northwestern’s coach noted he wasn’t concerned about the effort, just the quality of play his team was producing.
“You can see in spurts where we do really good things and then we just start doing things that we don’t practice,” said Gossett. “And they’re trying, they’re doing everything we’re asking them. But maybe they’re trying to do a little too much, and maybe that’s come from not practicing together a lot.”
A game chock full of dunks and fouls was always going to favor the stronger, faster, deeper Trojans.
“We like to run and gun,” said Long. “We got some big guys and they can run just as well as we can so we just try to get the ball out and up the court.”
Northwestern went to the big guys early and often Thursday night. Leading 16-15 heading into the second quarter, 6-foot-6 sophomore Manzi Hill converted back-to-back and-ones to put the Trojans ahead by five points, before Ahmad Dewese finished at the rim for a 26-19 lead. That advantage was stretched to 12 points at 33-21 as the Trojans muzzled the Rebels in the half court with sticky defense.
Strom Thurmond closed the gap to 35-27 at the half, but the Trojans surged away in the third quarter thanks to a relentless pace. Rudolph scored inside while drawing a foul, then turned an offensive rebound into a second chance bucket. The Rebels couldn’t match Northwestern’s height in the paint and McClure took advantage, scoring twice at the rim, the second a strong finish despite an audible slap on the arm by a Strom Thurmond defender that put the Trojans up 49-35.
“It gives us a good rotation if someone gets in foul trouble,” Gossett said about his team’s depth in the paint. “We got some guys that can do some stuff, but we got to give them the ball without turning it over.”
A muscular drive by Ross gave Northwestern a 55-38 lead late in the quarter, before JaSergio Kennion buried a three at the buzzer for the Rebels. Northwestern traded buckets with the visitors from near Aiken in the fourth quarter and never really looked in danger of losing, despite a litany of turnovers and fouls on both sides. The Trojans are only shooting about 52 percent from the free throw line this year, but they hit 12-of-14 in the fourth quarter to prevent the athletic but inefficient Strom Thurmond from making an improbable comeback. The Rebels missed eight freebies during the same period and drop into Friday’s consolation bracket. Northwestern will play the winner of Concord and Carolina Forest Friday night at 8 p.m.
Northwestern 75, Strom Thurmond 67
Northwestern: Rontavious McClure 18, Mason Rudolph 10, LaThomas Long 13, Ahmad Dewese 4, Mustafia Love 4, Will Chitwood 9, Clenzo Ross 10, Manzi Hill 7; Strom Thurmond: Hykeem Brooks 6, JaSergio Kennion 11, Josh Hamilton 16, Ty Brooks 6, Ryan Williams 12, Jaylan Robinson 7, Daquarius Johnson 12.
3-point goals: Northwestern 5 (Chitwood 3, McClure 2); Strom Thurmond 5 (Hamilton 2, Johnson, Brooks, Kennion)
Team fouls: Northwestern 18; Strom Thurmond 20
Foul shots: Northwestern 24-36; Strom Thurmond 16-34
Fouled out: Strom Thurmond: Brooks, Kennion.