Playing its fourth game in eight days, Columbus North might have been a little weary in the first half Saturday night.
But by the fourth quarter, the Bull Dogs were running on all cylinders. They outscored Whiteland 19-6 over the final 4½ minutes to rally for their fifth consecutive win, a 65-56 triumph.
“We had four games (in the past eight days), so that was really tough and tiring,” senior Jaylen Flemmons said. “But we have to get back and practice because we have a shorter week and play a really tough game at Hamilton Southeastern on Thursday.”
Flemmons led the Bull Dogs (10-6) with a career-high 27 points. Trey Vincent added 21 for North.
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The Warriors (6-9) held North’s leading scorer, Blake Barker, to six points and sharpshooter Bailey Hester to three, but that opened space for Flemmons and Vincent.
“With Columbus North, it’s kind of pick-your-poison,” Whiteland coach Matt Wadsworth said. “We did a good job defensively on Barker and Hester, but the attention that we put on those two guys allowed Vincent and Flemmons to get to the rim.”
Whiteland jumped out to a 17-6 lead with 2:17 left in the first quarter and led 19-10 at the end of the period. The Bull Dogs rallied to tie the game at 21 with 5:24 left in the first half, and after a couple of lead changes, the Warriors went to halftime with a 29-27 lead.
“First of all, we didn’t panic,” North coach Paul Ferguson said. “We told the guys, ‘We’ve been here before. We know we’re playing well. We just didn’t have a good first quarter.”
Whiteland maintained a slight edge through most of the third quarter and led 43-41 going to the final period. The Warriors led 50-46 when Flemmons converted a one-and-one, Vincent had a steal and layup and Flemmons came up with a blocked shot, was fouled and hit another one-and-one for a 52-50 lead with 3:44 remaining.
“We just kept attacking them,” Flemmons said. “We were letting them in the middle way too easily, and they were getting wide-open 3s, and we weren’t shooting well tonight. Then, my teammates just kept finding me, and I was betting easy buckets, and then Trey started getting his stuff going, and we started making a little comeback.”
The Warriors regained the advantage on a 3-pointer by Carter Crowe. But then Vincent hit two free throws, Barker stole the inbounds pass and fed Hester for a layup and Flemmons grabbed a rebound and threw ahead to Barker for a breakaway layup for a 58-53 lead with 2:10 left.
After two Vincent free throws, Whiteland’s Brennan Neal hit three free throws to cut the lead to 60-56 with 52 seconds remaining. But the Bull Dogs hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final 23 seconds to ice it.
“I thought in the fourth quarter, the biggest difference was our toughness,” Ferguson said. “We had big rebounds down the stretch, a couple blocked shots and very timely free-throw shooting.”
North finished 26 of 33 from the free-throw line and committed a season-low four turnovers. Whiteland outrebounded the Bull Dogs 22-19, with Flemmons and Trenton Kelley each grabbed five rebounds for North.
Flemmons went 8 of 10 from the field and 11 of 14 from the free-throw line.
“Jaylen knew that he could get to the rim against these guys, and he made a couple big-time moves,” Ferguson said. “He finished some plays at the basket and knocked down some free throws. He didn’t want to lose this game.”