By Justin Sokeland
EVANSVILLE – If a basketball deity exists, if the ghost of James Naismith happened to sneak a peak, any evidence of this game would be erased. Heaven forbid, somebody would be forced to watch it twice. Did either team want to win it? Somebody had to.
Evansville Reitz did. Not with picturesque technique, because the Panthers bricked enough free throws to complete the semi-circle of their three-sided arena. Bedford North Lawrence did not, because the Stars concreted enough jumpers to build another freeway alongside I-69. Nothing would go down.
So with a 12-0 run to close the third quarter, Reitz pulled away to a safety zone. With sudden urgency in the final four minutes, BNL somehow – a minor miracle – scratched back within a single possession. In reality, stealing a win would have been a major crime. But that all-points-bulletin was not issued.
With Isaac Higgs scoring 21 points, the Panthers finally finished off a 48-44 home win on Friday night. Will Kirkland added 11 points as Reitz (7-1) took advantage of its length and height advantage to force BNL (4-4) into the most miserable of shooting performances.
How bad was it? BNL was 1-of-8 from long range in the first quarter, and still owned a 7-6 lead, and then cooled off. The Stars were an abysmal 8 of 34 during the first three quarters, shot 16 of 60 overall. And still got within 46-44 in the closing seconds. Higgs ended the suspense with two free throws with 2.3 seconds left. And that twin swish was a rarity as Reitz missed 12 from the line in the final quarter.
Ugh. BNL will have to endure a long bus ride home with that in the rear-view mirror. The Panthers could go home quickly and celebrate. Perhaps quietly.
“When you win a game like that, you want to be hard on them,” Reitz coach Austin Brooks said. “But we know we played bad and still won. It’s always a positive thing to get the W.”
BNL coach Jeff Hein was not as forgiving. For a team that had shown increased offensive punch this season, the horrid shooting was inexplicable. Open looks, clang. Drives to the rim, rolled away. The harder the Stars fought, and there was no questioning the effort, the worse it got.
“What it was, I don’t know,” Hein said. “We missed a shot, missed another, missed another, another, another . . . We have to be tougher than that mentally. We let them intimidate us, all night long, and we never got over the hurdle. We tripped on Hurdle 1, stumbled on Hurdle 2, skinned our knees on Hurdle 3 when we tripped and fell on the ground. Until late in the game, we finally figured some things out.
“But you can’t wait until the last four minutes. You have to play the first 28, too. We played maybe four. That won’t win you a game.”
For all the misfires, BNL was still in a position to take over. The Stars had dictated tempo, had slowed Reitz to an uncomfortable crawl, and just a few shots would have changed the momentum. But the Stars made only two baskets in the second quarter and left the floor trailing 16-12. Surely something would change in the second half.
It did. Reitz finally got hot. After Noah Godlevske converted two free throws following a technical foul, cutting Reitz’s lead to 20-18 at the 5:45 mark, the Panthers took off. Higgs drained a trey, Kirkland flashed through the lane for a bucket, freshman Braylen Langley converted a layup, and Kirkland splashed a trey for a 32-18 lead. Felt like 30.
“The energy, effort and communication picked up,” Brooks said. “We had to get over ourselves. We played selfish basketball in the first half. They were out-hustling us, out-toughing us. We had to wake up and play basketball. They controlled the tempo, it was a battle.“
BNL trailed 37-21 when it showed signs of life. Colten Leach knifed to a 3-point play, Colton Staggs dropped a 3-pointer, then stormed through the paint for a layup as the deficit dropped to single digits. Then as Reitz rimmed multiple free throws, the Stars edged closer. Staggs swished a corner bomb, Leach and Kaedyn Bennett added layups, and now it’s 46-42 with 33 seconds left. Two more missed free throws, a Godlevske jumper from midrange, and it’s 46-44. And there was unexpected nervousness. Higgs calmed that by making two at the line.
What happened to BNL’s offense during the first 28 minutes?
“We tried to speed them up a little bit,” Brooks said. “Sometimes they were in a rush to shoot because they weren’t as comfortable as they usually are.”
Staggs finished with 15 points, Leach had another double-double with 12 points and 10 boards, and Bennett grabbed 11 rebounds. Because there were a lot of those. But the Stars were only 5 of 26 from deep.
“We were very timid, scared, soft – whatever you want to say it – mentally tonight,” Hein said. “Physically we played hard, we played our butts off, we’re fun to watch for how hard we play. But in the ‘play hard, play smart’ area, our intelligence level, we looked like the Bad News Bears trying to play basketball on the offensive end.
“Physically, we scrapped. Mentally we were marshmallows. We have to overcome that. Or we won’t win another game. It’s as simple as that. It’s a 2 1/2-hour bus ride home. We have to figure some things out.”
BNL will host South Knox (7-3 after a 45-37 win over Northeast Dubois) on Saturday night.
BEDFORD NL STARS (44)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
4 Kaedyn Bennett, f 0-4 1-6 0-0 11 4 2
2 Colten Leach, f 0-0 5-18 2-3 10 3 12
22 Colton Staggs, g 3-6 6-14 0-0 4 5 15
1 Trace Rynders, g 1-8 1-8 2-2 4 5 5
11 Noah Godlevske, g 1-7 3-13 2-2 3 0 9
34 Jett Jones 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
14 Kole Bailey 0-1 0-1 1-3 2 3 1
12 Maddox Ray 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
10 Patric Matson 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
3 Quincy Pickett 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Totals 5-26 16-60 7-9 35 21 44
EVANSVILLE REITZ PANTHERS (48)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
3 Jayden Sanders, f 0-1 2-6 2-5 3 4 6
21 Ke’Arieon Pace, f 0-0 0-0 0-0 3 1 0
20 Braylen Langley, f 0-0 3-3 0-1 7 4 6
32 Isaac Higgs, g 2-3 7-9 5-10 6 3 21
4 Will Kirkland, g 1-1 2-6 6-6 4 3 11
2 Robert Goodloe 0-1 0-1 1-4 2 2 1
5 Malachai Vance 1-1 1-1 0-0 1 0 3
Totals 4-7 15-26 14-26 29 17 48
Bedford NL 7 5 6 26 – 44
Evan. Reitz 6 10 16 16 – 48
Turnovers – BNL 9, Reitz 15
Technical foul – Sanders
Field goal percentage – BNL 16-60 (.267); Reitz 15-26 (.577)
Free throw percentage – BNL 7-9 (.778); Reitz 14-26 (.538)