Panthers top Bull Dogs in seesaw battle

BLOOMINGTON — Tuesday’s first-round game between Columbus North and Bloomington South took nine lead changes and six ties to decide which team would advance to the semifinal round of the Bloomington North Sectional.

The sectional rematch mirrored the game from earlier in the month when the Bull Dogs went into halftime with a two-point lead and lost after struggling to score in the final quarter. Columbus North began the fourth quarter of Tuesday night’s game with a 33-32 lead, but fell short in a 46-42 loss.

“It was a great basketball game,” North coach Paul Ferguson said. “We held the lead for awhile, and I’m really proud of my guys. I thought they played a heck of a basketball game, and my hat’s off to Bloomington South for executing their game plan really well.”

No team could pull further than four points from each other for the first three quarters. North’s Alex King had to sit out for the final minutes of the second quarter after picking up his second foul, but scored 10 of his 16 points in the final two quarters. The Panthers (20-4) went into halftime with a 22-21 lead.

The Bull Dogs (15-9) did not shoot well from 3-point range, hitting only 3 of 11. Nathan VanDeventer and Trey Vincent hit North’s two 3-pointers in the third quarter to help give the Bull Dogs a one point lead going into the fourth.

The Bloomington South defense gave North problems, forcing nine steals in the game and outscoring the Bull Dogs by five points in the fourth quarter.

“Unfortunately, we turned the ball over 15 times, and they turned it over three times,” Ferguson said. There were a few key possessions in the fourth quarter when we turned it over, and they executed. That’s’ the difference if you want to win a sectional.”

The score was tied at 37 with just under four minutes left when the Panthers went on a 5-0 run to take a 42-37 lead. Ethan Mitchell, who had four blocked shots and six points, fouled out with 2:42 remaining.

Zach Green’s 3-pointer with less than a minute remaining cut the lead to two. He had a chance to tie the game with 25 seconds left, but his second 3-pointer was blocked.

Vincent, who finished with five points, drove the ball to the basket for a layup to pull North back within two points after Bloomington South hit one of two free throws. The Bull Dogs were forced to foul with just seven seconds remaining and the Panthers’ Chance Coyle stepped to the free-throw line and ended North’s season with two clutch free throws that pushed the lead to four.

“I’m very pleased with what we did this year,” Ferguson said. “I thought we grew as a program. It just hurts right now because we wanted to take that next step to playing and potentially winning a sectional championship, and we didn’t get there.”

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Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at fbonner@therepublic.com or 812-379-5632.