North’s defense smothers Stars during 38-27 win in opener

BNL’s Jackson Miracle is confronted by Bloomington North’s Aaron Steinfeldt in the lane. Miracle scored 9 points, but the Cougars prevailed 38-27 in the season opener on Tuesday night.

By Justin Sokeland

WBIW.coim

BEDFORD – Most nights, the basketball court is a canvas, displaying works of art when the game is beautifully and skillfully played. Graceful athletes can create masterpieces with brushstrokes of elegance. It is joy to watch.

This was not one of those. Bedford North Lawrence and Bloomington North, throwing stuff against the walls to see what stuck, set offensive artistry back to cave drawings. But for defensive technicians, this was exquisite. It was excruciating to watch.

North, with its physicality finally taking its toll, hammered out a 38-27 victory over the Stars in the season opener on Tuesday night. Isaac Vencel scored 15 points, including 9 in the final quarter as the Cougars clawed away.

But that was the secondary story. Defense dominated, with both teams shooting miserably. BNL suffered through two lengthy scoring droughts, and the second one was fatal as North pounded out a block-and-tackle victory, forcing 20 turnovers while BNL’s execution broke down.

The Stars powered to a 13-7 lead with the first basket of the second quarter, then went the next 11:45 without a field goal. They took a 25-21 lead with the first bucket of the fourth, then didn’t score for the next 6:30. North’s muscle and tenacity were overbearing.

“They just wore us out,” BNL coach Jeff Hein said. “Their pressure just wore us out. They have pressure on the ball and a body on you. We got tired. We got frustrated, didn’t handle it as well as we needed to. They physically wore us out with their strength.”

As brutal as the battle became, with the rims bruised and abused, BNL had its chance. Ben Cosner exploded for 8 straight points midway through the third quarter, and Kaedyn Bennett started the fourth with a corner trey for the 25-21 lead.

BNL’s Ben Cosner looks for room to fire on the perimeter. Cosner had 8 points, all in the third quarter.

But from that point, as BNL’s attack became non-functional, the Cougars imposed their will. Vencel, struggling for the first three quarters, got loose for a wing drive, a left-handed score in the lane and a layup in transition as North methodically created operating space.

“Vencel was the best player on the floor, without question,” Hein said. “That was pretty obvious.”

For the majority of minutes, nobody could legitimately claim that. Jackson Miracle got the Stars started with three close-range baskets, and Colten Leach opened the second period with a lane drive for the six-point edge. That’s when BNL’s production ceased.

“Defensively, we were spectacular,” North coach Jason Speer said. “Guarding them in space the way we did was fantastic.”

Cosner’s brief eruption – a wing 3-pointer, a spinning 10-footer in the lane and another bomb in less than two minutes – gave BNL some momentum. But it didn’t last. Nobody could shake free.

BNL’s Aden Pemberton hits the floor to claim a loose ball in front of Jackson Miracle and North’s Jaqualon Roberts.

“They were just all over us,” Hein said. “They didn’t allow our shooters to get perimeter shots, they did a good job defending that. They took that away and we have to figure out how to score. We didn’t have an answer.”

Here are the ugly numbers. North hit 12 of 51 shots, and most nights that gets a team beat. The Cougars were a dreadful 1-of-18 from long range.

“I can’t fault our effort, to hold them to 21 points the first three quarters and lead,” Hein said. “We stuck to our game plan, did what we needed to do, hung with them on rebounds. But then you have almost as many turnovers as points, you’re not going to win many games.”

BNL’s shooting stats were equally grim, 11 of 42. The difference was ultimately the free-throw line, where the Stars were only 1 of 4 while North went 13 of 23.

“Keeping them off the foul line, guarding them the way we did, I was really proud of that on the road,” Speer said. “We have to learn to win games like this, not playing your best and missing our best player (Nick Klaiber was absent with a sprained ankle).

“Our execution wasn’t great on the offensive end. Defensively, give them credit. They were contesting things bigger than what they are against us at the rim. But for whatever reason, defensively we really brought it. We took them out of everything they wanted to do.”

Miracle paced the Stars with 9 points while Cosner had 8. BNL’s 27 total points were the lowest since the infamous 24-23 overtime loss to Loogootee during the 1981-82 season.

BNL will look to bounce back when it visits Bloomington South on Dec. 4.

BNL’s Colten Leach finds a gap to the basket. Leach scored 4 points.

BLOOMINGTON NORTH COUGARS (38)

3s FGs FTs R F Pts

24 Jaqualon Roberts, f 0-4 2-9 4-4 8 0 8

44 Aaron Steinfeldt, f 0-4 1-7 2-4 12 3 4

10 Marco Fitch, g 0-1 1-8 1-2 1 2 3

12 Nate Toohill, g 1-3 1-6 0-0 2 3 3

22 Isaac Vencel, g 0-5 5-15 5-10 5 4 15

21 Tyree Rochell 0-1 2-5 0-0 2 2 4

43 Zach Ranger 0-0 0-1 1-2 2 0 1

3 Nathan Hoffman 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 0 0

Totals 1-18 12-51 13-23 37 14 38

BEDFORD NL STARS (27)

3s FGs FTs R F Pts

11 Ben Cosner, f 2-3 3-9 0-0 4 4 8

31 Jackson Miracle, f 0-0 4-6 1-2 4 2 9

12 Kooper Staley, g 0-2 0-7 0-0 2 3 0

24 Colten Leach, g 0-0 2-13 0-1 9 2 4

3 Aden Pemberton, g 1-2 1-2 0-0 5 3 3

22 Colton Staggs 0-0 0-0 0-0 2 0 0

25 Josh Blunk 0-0 0-1 0-0 2 1 0

15 Kaedyn Bennett 1-4 1-4 0-1 0 2 3

Totals 4-11 11-42 1-4 37 17 27

Bl. North 7 9 5 17 – 38

Bedford NL 11 3 8 5 – 27

Turnovers – North 10, BNL 20

Field goal percentage – North 12-51 (.235); BNL 11-42 (.261)

Free throw percentage- North 13-23 (.565); BNL 1-4 (.250)

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