INDIANAPOLIS — Under pressure.
That could be the theme for this season’s Columbus North boys basketball team, which after turning in a terrific season in 2012-2013, wears a big bulls-eye on their collective chest.
Take down the currently No. 3-ranked Bull Dogs, and it will catch everyone’s attention.
And the pressure doesn’t just relate to North’s mental situation.
If any of the top Indiana high school basketball coaches were watching, it’s a sure thing that these Bull Dogs are going to face an all-out press late in games.
North led 54-39 with less than two minutes left in the third quarter of Saturday’s 70-66 overtime win against Cathedral in the Tip-Off Classic at Southport Fieldhouse.
Then the Fighting Irish figured out that the best way to keep the ball away from North big men Josh Speidel and Elliott Welmer was not to allow the Bull Dogs to get the ball up the court.
Cathedral coach Andy Fagan ordered an all-out attack of North’s guards and the strategy paid dividends. As soon as North started to head up the court, guys in white and green jerseys came at the ball in waves.
The refs didn’t count the number of Cathedral bodies on the court, but I am sure I counted seven at point, along with a water boy.
Evan Henry, as dog-tough as anyone on the floor, simply was overwhelmed. With Welmer and Speidel down the court, nobody else seemed to be able to help Henry much. North committed five turnovers in the final two minutes of regulation.
When Speidel missed an eight-foot floater on a drive just before the buzzer, the game was headed to overtime.
That’s where it really gets exciting for those who bleed Bull Dogs’ blue. You see, North had flat out blown it and was likely to be flattened in overtime. No 4-ranked Cathedral (1-2) was charging, winning all the loose balls and pouring in points with 5-foot-8 point guard Justin Baker (32 points) playing like Muggsy Bogues.
North guard Kooper Glick, who was out with a sprained ankle, had to watch everything from his seat on the bench. The Blue Dogs (4-0) could have cried “poor us,” with one of their best ball-handlers inactive.
While North’s ball-handling was out of whack, its character wasn’t. The Bull Dogs did what they do best, working the ball inside to Speidel for the first basket of overtime. On the other end, North coach Jason Speer figured that two could play at the pressure game. He ordered his defenders to double-team the ball, taking Baker out of his comfort zone. Cathedral went 2 for 8 from the field in the overtime with a turnover. Baker had just one point in overtime.
A code that great teams live by. When things don’t go well offensively, play awesome defense.
North also got good at the free throw line at crunch time. The Bull Dogs were 3 for 8 from the line in the second half until Henry dropped four consecutive free throws in the final 3:18 of regulation.
Then in overtime, North was 5 of 6.
For the second consecutive night (North beat Franklin Central 59-57 on Friday night), the Bull Dogs defeated one of the state’s top teams. Still, it was obvious that North has a lot more in its tank.
“We weren’t necessarily playing our best basketball,” said Henry, who had 26 points. “But that is what is really exciting.”
Yes, it is exciting. But there also is a lot of pressure.
Consider that Cathedral lost to Indianapolis Tech 68-38 on Friday.
The Bull Dogs have lots of work to do.
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.