After winning a strategic game of chess earlier in the day, the Columbus North girls basketball team had an entirely different challenge in the championship game of the Subway Columbus North Invitational on Saturday at Columbus North High School.
Fort Wayne South was using its size and strength to push around the Bull Dogs under the basket as the Archers managed a 22-22 tie at the half.
Obviously, you don’t want to get nasty with this North squad.
North, which reclaimed the paint with excellent box-outs and everyone on the floor crashing the boards, was the tougher team in the second half and the result was a 57-35 victory and an invitational tournament title.
The Bull Dogs (11-0) so frustrated the visitors that Fort Wayne South coach Juanita Goodwell drew a technical foul in the fourth quarter. North’s Tayler Goodall drilled both free throws for a 50-33 lead. The rest of the game was merely a victory lap.
The real championship game was earlier in the day when North beat Roncalli 40-37 in the semifinal. The Bull Dogs faced a tough Rebels’ 3-2 zone defense that spent much of its time hounding North sophomore Ali Patberg.
With few chances to penetrate that defensive shell, North patiently waited for shooting opportunities from the perimeter. That looked like a flawed strategy early when North went 3 for 15 from the floor in the first quarter. But as the game progressed, junior guards Goodall and Kelsey Cunningham started to find the mark.
When the game was on the line with under four minutes to go, Goodall and Cunningham were at their best. With North nursing a 33-31 lead, Goodall dropped a 3-pointer from the corner that brought the fans to their feet. Then North forced a Rebels’ turnover and rushed back the other direction, feeding Cunningham in the corner. She hit nothing but net to put the game on ice at 39-31 with three minutes remaining.
Patberg, Goodall and Cunningham all were named to the all-tournament team and it probably was fortunate there was no MVP. All three were terrific.
While Patberg struggled a bit on offense in the opener with six points, she was the lightning rod for everything that transpired on the court. As Roncalli and Fort Wayne South tried to design ways to deal with her, it created opportunities for her teammates. And even with all that attention, she scored 19 points in the title game.
Goodall sunk six 3-pointers in the first game to finish with 19 points. She added 14 points in the title game without hitting a 3. Cunningham was outstanding throughout. She hit four 3s in the semifinal for 12 points and added 15 points (two 3s) against Fort Wayne South.
Perhaps even more important were Cunningham’s ball handling skills. The Archers (9-2) threw everything they could at Cunningham until it seemed like players were coming off the bench during play. She kept dribbling through them and setting up her teammates on the other end of the floor.
Trying to pressure the Bull Dogs all over the floor might have been a mistake for Fort Wayne South but it was a welcome break for a North team that has seen mostly zone defenses. “Last season, everyone played man against us,” Goodall said. “This year, everyone is playing zone.”
“We’re used to playing fast on offense,” Cunningham said. “We play an attacking offense. So it was hard to be patient.”
Indeed, it took some patience as Roncalli (11-2) built a 20-17 halftime lead. “When we were down, it was a little hard to be patient,” Goodall said. “But we stepped it up on defense, too.”
In both games, North was burned early by allowing some easy drives to the basket. Both times, however, adjustments snuffed out any thought of an easy bucket.
Then at crunch time, North had plenty of options when it came to sinking the big shots. “We always end up pulling it out,” Cunningham said.