By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Locked in a classic death struggle, with each bounce determining fate, Dame Fortune smiled on Evansville North. Clutch baskets from an unexpected hero, a free throw that plunked home with a possible assist, brilliant shooting from deep by the top gun in green. Lucky? No, according to famous author Ernest Hemingway. The Huskies made their own luck.
With a little-known sophomore making critical shots at key moments, with a blessed bounce in the second overtime, with senior star Ryan Caddell making everything, North shot down Bedford North Lawrence during a tense, high-quality clash, spoiling the Senior Day celebration for BNL’s Dylan Endris and stopping any momentum the Stars had created during their five-game road trip.
The Huskies, who owned the lead for all but six possessions, finally put away BNL in the second extra session for a thrilling 82-76 triumph on Saturday evening. Caddell scored 20 points, hitting the bulk of North’s 12 treys, and offset the career-high, 36-point explosion by BNL’s Colten Leach. Cameron Gehlhausen added 17 points for North, which backed up its emotional comeback win at Castle on Friday night with a tough road victory.
The Stars (10-10 and playing their sixth game in 11 days) finally fell flat in the second overtime, with North hitting two treys to start that four-minute session, with the Huskies (11-10) hitting 12 free throws from that point to keep BNL at a distance.
Luck? Nothing lucky about Caddell, who was a perfect 6-for-6 from 3-point range, including the opening salvo of the second overtime. Lucky? Well, the free throw that Jewellz Hailey converted, crucial at the juncture with North protecting a 73-71 lead with 1:40 left, probably qualifies. His shot caught heavy on rim, rocketed skyward and high, then fell off the back rim like wet cement and dropped home. BNL coach Jeff Hein claimed the ball glanced off the guide strap that hangs down from the ceiling to the backboard, helping stabilize the apparatus when the goals are raised and lowered. He lost the argument.
Luck? The game’s biggest shots came from sophomore reserve Cayden Gehlhausen, who has spent the majority of the season working on the junior varsity. North was fortunate he was not on a scouting report, because he hit three straight treys in the second half, none bigger than his bomb from the key that erased BNL’s last lead in the first overtime.
When all that dust settled, and there was a lot of dirt being thrown on top of BNL as it dug its way back from burial several times, the Huskies had their way on the Endris Day.
“It’s such a possession game, everything gets magnified in an overtime,” Hein said. “Our kids compete, play hard. They ran out of gas. You could see it in their faces, they didn’t have a lot left.”
North had too much offensive firepower. The Huskies were a sensational 12 of 17 from long range – compared to anemic 6-of-13 shooting from the foul line during regulation. Some things are inexplicable, and those stats probably qualify.
“Sometimes the ball doesn’t fall in,” North coach Jason Roach said. “Tonight the ball fell in, and that was the difference. When the ball goes in the hoop, it makes things a little easier. We hit free throws, the game is over earlier. It’s all mental.“
BNL was lucky to stay within range at all. North blasted to a 22-11 lead in the first 10 minutes, capped by a Caddell bomb. The Stars scrambled back within 26-22 at the half, with Colton Staggs scoring 6 points at the line, with Leach converting a mid-range jumper in transition. BNL opened the second half with a Leach drive and a Staggs 15-footer (with Kole Bailey hustling to retrieve a missed free throw), and that set the stage for some point-counterpoint the rest of the way.
Every time BNL would surge – Trace Rynders from deep for a 39-36 advantage – North would answer. Gehlhausen from long range, Caddell again and it was North holding a 42-41 lead after the third. The Huskies went up 54-48 late in the fourth, with Gehlhausen knocking down a corner trey, but BNL responded with bombs from Jett Jones (at 1:15) and Rynders (with 52 seconds left). After North missed two at the line, the Stars had the chance for the game-winner but didn’t get a clean look in the final 6.3 seconds.
So the battle raged on. Staggs dashed to a 3-point play for a 62-61 lead with 1:26 remaining in the first overtime, and that was answered by the Gehlhausen trey that was so huge. Leach roared through the lane for a bucket and a 64-64 deadlock, and Cameron Gehlhausen missed a left-wing trey to force the second overtime.
Then swish, swish. Caddell ripped his final trey, Matthew Bunnell hit another from distance, and North had control. “That was key,” Roach said. “If you get down by four points to them, it feels like 12.” After the Hailey free throw, BNL misfired on its next three chances. That was fatal.
In addition to the Caddell sniping, the younger Gehlhausen was 3-for-3 from the 3-line. Brayden Huebner came off the bench for 14 points (including five put-away free throws in the second OT). North shot 65 percent against a defense that is usually very stingy.
“You have to credit them,’ Hein said. “It’s hard to combat that. You have to give something up, and they were on their game tonight. We had to pay for it. I can’t fault our effort by any means. Did we always play as smart as I’d like to see? No. But we definitely gave the effort. We dug ourselves a hole and we weren’t able to get out of it all night.”
Leach was phenomenal, hitting 14 of 26 shots. Staggs totaled 22 points and Jones contributed 10 with three treys. BNL’s problem was another point source as the Leach-Staggs combination accounted for all but one point until the Rynders trey with two minutes left in the third.
“They’re tough to guard off the bounce,” Roach said. “Leach and Staggs are really good basketball players.”
“He’s a warrior,” Hein said of his scoring leader. “It’s hard to fault anything he does. He’s out there giving everything he has. We have to get them more help in other places.”
BNL played its first double-OT game since a win at Jennings County during the 2013-14 season.
The Stars, who will learn their sectional fate when the IHSAA announces the state tournament draw on Sunday night, will return to action against Eastern Greene in the home finale on Tuesday.
EVANSVILLE NORTH HUSKIES (82)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
33 Cameron Gehlhausen, f 1-4 5-9 6-9 5 4 17
23 Mason Wicks, f 0-0 3-3 0-0 3 5 6
1 Matthew Bunnell, g 2-4 2-4 2-4 1 0 8
22 Aidan Blackford, g 0-0 1-4 2-2 8 4 4
30 Ryan Caddell, g 6-6 7-8 0-0 2 3 20
10 Brayden Huebner 0-0 4-7 6-9 3 2 14
11 Jewellz Hailey 0-0 0-0 2-4 1 1 2
31 Cayden Gehlhausen 3-3 4-5 0-1 2 2 11
Totals 12-17 26-40 18-29 29 21 82
BEDFORD NL STARS (76)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
20 Dylan Endris, f 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
34 Jett Jones, f 3-6 3-8 1-2 4 3 10
22 Colton Staggs, g 1-3 6-21 9-9 5 4 22
1 Trace Rynders, g 2-5 2-5 2-2 4 5 8
2 Colten Leach, g 1-2 14-26 7-12 8 4 36
5 Houston Corbin 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 2 0
14 Kole Bailey 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 1 0
23 Memphis Louden 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 0
12 Maddox Ray 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
24 Cruz Sanchez 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
3 Quincy Pickett 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
10 Dylan Nikirk 0-0 0-1 0-0 0 3 0
Totals 7-16 25-61 19-25 30 22 76
Evan. North 14 12 16 14 8 18 – 82
Bedford NL 9 13 19 15 8 12 – 76
Turnovers – Evansville North 16, BNL 9
Field goal percentage – Evansville North 26-40 (.650); BNL 25-61 (.410)
Free throw percentage – Evansville North 18-29 (.621); BNL 19-25 (.760)