Bull Dogs win battle of titans

When Paige Littrell took a pass in the right corner with her Columbus North team clinging to a four-point lead and just under three minutes remaining Wednesday night, she knew exactly what to do.

Littrell let fly with a 3-pointer that found nothing but net. The basket helped spark a 15-2 game-ending run that allowed the Class 4A No. 2 Bull Dogs knock off 4A No. 3 Penn 67-52 for the Subway/Columbus North Invitational championship.

“I know when I’m hot, and when I’m hot, I’m confident I’m going to keep shooting it,” Littrell said.

The 3-pointer was the fourth in five attempts for Littrell, who finished with 19 points.

“Honestly, I think it’s hitting that first shot,” Littrell said. “Once I hit that first shot, my confidence just goes way up. It always ends up helping the rest of my game. If I hit that first 3 that I take, the rest of my game follows.”

Maliah Howard-Bass hit all four of her 3-point tries on her way to a game-high 20 points. North (13-0), which won its own invitational for the fourth time in its four-year history, was 8-of-10 from behind the arc as a team.

“I was on, and my teammates knew, so they just tried to feed me the ball,” Howard-Bass said. “I can’t take all the credit for that because it was my teammates finding me, and it was passing it in and then passing it back out.”

The Bull Dogs jumped out to a 25-14 lead after one quarter and led 36-24 at halftime after a buzzer-beating layup by Kat Norman. After Howard-Bass scored and Littrell hit a 3-pointer to begin the second half, North had its largest lead at 41-24.

“We moved the ball and made some big shots and got the lead,” North coach Pat McKee said. “But to (Penn’s) credit, they’re going to come at you. They defend hard, they attack you.”

The Kingsmen (15-1) then finished the third quarter with a 16-4 run to cut the lead to 45-40. They got to within 52-50 with 3:41 remaining.

“At that point, we could have folded,” McKee said. “But instead, we found our composure.”

Ashlyn Huffman hit two free throws and Littrell drained her final 3-pointer to give North some breathing room and start the closing 15-2 run.

“That is remarkable by anybody in any circumstance, but considering it was Penn and how good they are, I’m so proud of our players and how they responded then,” McKee said.

Imani Guy finished with 10 points joined Howard-Bass and Huffman on the All-Tournament Team. Huffman, Howard-Bass and Elle Williams all grabbed six rebounds to lead the Bull Dogs to a 27-18 advantage on the boards.

“We knew coming into it they were going to be a top team,” Littrell said. “We know they’re a potential state competitor for us. We scouted them, and we knew that they were fast and they were tough. I think we came out, and we matched it.”

North advanced to the title game with a 57-39 semifinal win against Jeffersonville. The Red Devils (11-6) were within 42-32 early in the fourth quarter before the Bull Dogs finally put them away.

“Jeffersonville is really athletic and quick, and they do some things that take some things away,” McKee said. “It wasn’t the prettiest win, but we had enough good surges that we were able to get a lead and maintain a lead.”

Howard-Bass led North with 24 points, including 18 in the first half. Huffman scored 11 points, an Guy added eight points, six rebounds and four blocked shots.

“These girls work hard, they play together and we’re different than last year,” McKee said. “We’re really good for different reasons, and we’re just delighted with everything they do.”

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.