In a second half in which Columbus North was clicking offensively, it was a defensive play that saved the game for the Bull Dogs.
Blake Barker deflected a pass, and Reese Harmon picked up the loose ball just before time ran out, allowing Columbus North to hold on for a 63-61 win against Bloomington North to finish in sole possession of second place in Conference Indiana.
“(The Cougars’ Tim Brewster) kind of got around me a little bit, and then I just saw the big guy (Aaron Steinfeldt) was open, so I just put my hand where his hands were going, and it just hit him and bounced off somebody’s leg, and that was the game,” Barker said.
The game featured big swings. The Cougars (13-5, 1-4 jumped out to an early 14-3 lead. The Bull Dogs (15-5, 4-1) came back to take a 43-31 lead on an alley-oop dunk by Patrick McKinley with midway through the third quarter.
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But Bloomington North didn’t go away. The Cougars rallied to take a 57-56 lead on a three-point play by Brewster with 2:39 left in the game.
Columbus North then answered with a pair of free throws from Nick Schiavello to take the lead for good. Schiavello then broke free for a three-point play and a 61-57 lead with 1:28 remaining.
“I think it was a big momentum boost for us,” Schiavello said. “We needed something that could keep us going to stop their run, and it just kept us positive and kept us going.”
The Cougars cut the lead back to two on a pair of free throws by Chris Thomas. Schiavello then hit the front end of a one-and-one to make it a three-point game.
Bloomington South cut it to one on a basket by Nick Klaiber with 13 seconds left. Schiavello then hit one more free throw with 10 seconds remaining, setting up the final defensive heroics.
“When we went down 12-2, we showed a lot of composure battling back, and I think at the end of the game when it was tight, we made some really good reads going backdoor, getting the ball in the paint and just doing the things we needed to do to win the game,” Columbus North coach Paul Ferguson said.
Schiavello finished with a career-high 30 points to lead the Bull Dogs.
“Nick had a heck of a ballgame, shot the ball really well,” Ferguson said. “I thought one of the biggest plays of the game was the tip he had down the stretch. He was really good defensively. It was just an unbelievable basketball game for him.”
Schiavello scored 23 of his 30 points in the second half. He scored Columbus North’s final nine points of the game and 13 of its last 15.
“I got some open shots and just knocked them down, and that really got me going,” Schiavello said. “My teammates did a great job of finding me. We have a different guy step up every game. We’re really balanced, and we get the job done when we’re really balanced and it helps us get a lot of wins.”
Barker added 13 points for the Bull Dogs, who bounced back from a 75-69 overtime loss at Bloomington South a week earlier in a game that decided the conference title.
“This is pretty big for us,” Barker said. “The B-South loss was pretty tough. We got off to a rough start (Friday), which wasn’t too good, but we never had a doubt in our mind that we could come back. We’re just one of those teams that keeps fighting. “
“We’re a tight-knit group,” Schiavello said. “We love each other. We stick together. We fight as a group, and we just keep grinding and know that we’re going to win if we play together.”