By Justin Sokeland
(BEDFORD) – Three is not a crowd. In basketball terms, three weapons is hard to defend. Silver Creek, the defending Class 3A state champion and the current No.1 team in that poll, proved that to Bedford North Lawrence.
While Silver Creek’s high-profile recruiting prizes were held in check to a large degree, the third piece of that terrific trio was the unstoppable X factor that powered the Dragons to a tough, testy, scowl-and-prowl road win on Saturday night.
Branden Northern, a quicksilver sophomore point guard with the name bloodline (in case anyone has forgotten about his father, the former Jeffersonville and University of Louisville standout), scored 28 points as the Dragons conquered the Stars 65-52, ending BNL’s solid four-game winning streak. Kooper Jacobi added 16 points as Silver Creek (7-0) won for the fifth time in this fierce series.
Brayton Bailey scored 23 points, 19 in a hard-nosed second half, but Northern converted 11 of 13 free throws in the fourth quarter to push BNL away after the Stars had scrambled within 6 early in that final frame.
In a physical game that was all about mental toughness and poise, Northern had it. That’s the same kid who was 2-for-10 from the line to start the season. Not this night. He was clutch under duress. Those Northern lights shined bright, lighting the route to a gritty triumph.
“I’m really proud of him,” Silver Creek coach Brandon Hoffman said of his point guard. “That’s a big asset.”
Silver Creek has a lot of those, most notably 6-9 forward Trey Kaufman, the recruiting target of most Division I programs in the state and the Midwest. BNL, swarming and bumping, limited him to 10. It was just a math problem. Two attack points can be neutralized. Three is a problem.
“All the stars had to align,” BNL coach Jeff Hein said when designing the possible upset. “And one of them was they couldn’t shoot the ball well. You have to pick your poison when you have 6-9 and 6-6 (Jacobi) in there.
“They did a good job of hitting shots (59 percent) and we struggled defending Northern’s quickness. He got loose on us a little bit and made us pay. He played with a lot more confidence. We have to have some guys step up and have that confidence, make those shots at the right time.”
Silver Creek toasted BNL’s first-quarter zone stance with 5 treys, all by the Big Three. That pushed the Stars in a 19-12 hole, and that deficit expanded to 33-19 when Kaufman drained his second bomb. It’s a little unfair for a kid that tall to shoot that well from the perimeter.
BNL did not die. Challenged to rise and punch back, the Stars did that as Bailey took over the second half, driving and scoring 10 straight BNL points to keep the Dragons from roaring away.
When he got some help, with Kaufman on the bench in foul trouble, with Jackson Miracle converting a Colten Leach pass for a layup and Kooper Staley busting a 3-pointer to slash the Creek lead to 50-44, the Stars were in threatening position.
Northern doused that thought, taking on double teams and cutting through to draw fouls and – finally, the killer – knife to the rim for a layup and 58-46 lead with 2:13 left.
“I was worried about this game all week,” Hoffman said, with his team coming off an emotional win over neighborhood rival Jeffersonville 24 hours earlier. “I knew the way Bedford was going to play set up a challenge for us. We were getting their best shot.
“They made things hard for big Trey. Other guys stepped up and made shots, so this game will be good for us moving forward.”
Bailey was superb, adding 9 rebounds to his point total.
“He’s a tough matchup,” Hoffman said. “He’s relentless trying to score, just relentless. I’m glad he’s graduating. That’s four years of that kid driving hard with his right hand. I don’t know we stopped him any year.”
Trey Mollet added 11 for the Stars (4-3), and Miracle added 8.
“We have come a long way since the Bloomington South game,” Hein said as the winning streak from that blowout loss ended. “We still have a little of the deer-in-the-headlights look, but not nearly as much as the night we played South. We showed some toughness tonight that we have to have to be any good.
“We battled. We had to fight in the second half, not be passive and not lay down. We competed hard.”
The Stars will return to action on Dec. 27-28, hosting a four-game, eight-team holiday tournament, starting with tests against Milan and Evansville Harrison.
SILVER CREEK DRAGONS (65)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
4 Trey Kaufman, f 2-3 4-7 0-0 4 4 10
32 Kooper Jacobi, f 2-4 5-8 4-4 6 2 16
24 Branden Northern, g 3-5 7-10 11-13 5 2 28
20 Isaac Hinton, g 0-1 0-1 0-0 3 0 0
14 Nolan Gilbert 0-0 1-1 2-2 2 0 4
10 Holden Groher 0-3 0-3 0-0 0 0 0
22 Trey Schoen 1-2 3-4 0-0 2 1 7
44 Taylor Betts 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 0
Totals 8-18 20-34 17-20 24 9 65
BEDFORD NL STARS (52)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
31 Jackson Miracle, f 0-0 4-5 0-0 0 4 8
13 Kooper Staley, g 1-4 2-6 0-0 2 1 5
22 Brayton Bailey, g 1-2 10-20 2-3 9 2 23
1 Trey Mollet, g 3-6 4-8 0-0 2 0 11
24 Colten Leach, g 0-0 1-1 0-0 0 4 2
11 Ben Cosner 1-3 1-5 0-0 3 5 3
21 Zach Sasser 0-0 0-1 0-0 0 2 0
Totals 6-15 22-46 2-3 17 18 52
Silver Creek 19 14 15 17 – 65
Bedford NL 12 9 16 15 – 52
Turnovers – Silver Creek 13, BNL 14
Field goal percentage – Silver Creek 20-34 (.588); BNL 22-46 (.478)
Free throw percentage – Silver Creek 17-20 (.850); BNL 2-3 (.667)