Zach Vernon (2) of North Union shoots over Jonathan Alder’s Taber Headings (22) Tuesday evening. The Pioneers remained unbeaten with a 44-40 victory. (Journal-Tribune photo by Sam Dillon)
The two best boys basketball teams in the Central Buckeye Conference squared off against each other Tuesday evening near Plain City.
During the early going, it appeared as though the unbeaten and state-ranked (No. 6 in D-II) Jonathan Alder Pioneers were in trouble.
The contest matched Alder, which sits atop the CBC’s Kenton Trail Division, against North Union, which holds the same lofty standard in the Mad River circuit.
The Wildcats got out to a quick start, but some surprising three-point shots and clutch free throws down the stretch led to Alder’s 44-40 victory.
A three-pointer by Aaron Krebehenne kick-started the Wildcats (7-2) to begin the contest.
NU got a bucket from Preston Crabtree and a charity toss by Zach Vernon to grab a 6-0 advantage.
The first stanza neared its midway point before JA (7-0) could get on the scoreboard.
Grant Welsch banked in a bucket for the Pioneers’ first points.
Crabtree and Trevyn Feasel later dialed in three-balls that pushed NU out to a 17-9 spread by the end of the quarter.
“We got into trouble right off the bat,” said JA coach Zach Ross. “We knew this was going to be a battle.”
The problem was due to the fact the Wildcats’ press, for which they are well-known, slowed down JA’s offensive momentum.
“That was one of the best presses we’ve seen all year,” said Ross.
A free throw from Crabtree stretched North Union’s lead to 18-11 approximately two minutes into the second quarter.
Welsch and Jackson Izzard prevented the Wildcats from mounting a bigger lead by hitting trifectas.
After an exchange in possessions, Alder’s Tyler Begin buried a three-ball that tied the game at 20-20.
Feasel hit a bucket and Vernon scored on the low block, upping the Wildcats’ lead to 24-20.
Both teams, which employed slower-paced, screen-and-passing half-court offenses, swapped the ball over the next couple of minutes.
Begin, who went into the game averaging 1.3 points per contest, tripled in his points four-through-six.
That trifecta narrowed Jonathan Alder’s deficit to 24-23 at the halftime turn.
The third quarter was a little more than three minutes old when Crabtree’s next basket gave NU a 26-23 edge.
Izzard’s charity toss and three-pointer earned JA a short-lived 27-26 upper hand – the Pioneers’ first lead of the game.
Vernon matched Izzard’s long ball, which returned a 29-27 edge to NU.
JA’s Taber Headings, however, scored on a stickback to knot the battle at 29-all by the end of the quarter.
Crabtree made a strong move along the baseline for a 31-29 Cat lead early in the final period.
Headings, though, threw down a trifecta that returned a 32-31 margin to JA.
“They had some guys (Begin and Headings) make three-pointers,” said Wildcat coach Brian Terrill. “Those are guys who don’t normally shoot three’s.”
The game went back-and-forth during the next couple of minutes.
Vernon, who led all scorers with 14 points, gave NU a 33-32 edge.
Izzard, however, buried one of his three trifectas for a 35-33 JA lead.
The Cats committed a turnover and Headings followed with a shot on the offensive glass for a 37-33 JA lead.
Vernon was fouled on a spin move to the lane with 3:33 on the timer.
His two charity tosses sliced NU’s deficit to 37-35.
At that point, the Pioneers began consuming a huge amount of time off the clock.
Alder was in no hurry to take the ball to the basket, preferring to screen and pass in its motion offense as precious seconds and minutes elapsed.
The Pioneers kept possession of the ball as the time slipped to less than three and then two minutes.
The Wildcats were forced to begin fouling, which eventually put JA in the bonus.
Welsch netted a pair of charity tosses with 1:03 left, giving Alder a 39-35 lead.
Begin came up with a steal at the opposite end of the floor.
The Pioneers, who didn’t have as much trouble with NU’s press late in the game, played the roundball version of keep-away until Welsch was again summoned to the free throw line.
His charity tosses with 38.9 ticks on the timer stretched Alder’s margin to 41-35.
Crabtree let fly with a three-ball at the other end of the court.
The offering did not find the mark, but he was fouled on the attempt.
Crabtree was spot on with all three free throws, which narrowed NU’s gap to 41-38.
The clock read 22.4 seconds when Welsch was once again put on the line.
He made one charity shot for a 42-38 Alder lead.
JA had fouls to give and then knocked the ball out of bounds with 6.9 seconds to play.
Vernon’s basket pulled NU to within 42-40 with scant seconds left.
After an NU timeout, Izzard was fouled on the ensuing inbounds play.
It was North Union’s 10th foul of the half, which put the Pioneers in the double bonus.
With 2.6 seconds remaining, Izzard sank both charity tosses for a 44-40 lead.
Headings then stole the ball on an NU pass upcourt to end the game.
“North Union has a lot of winners in its program and they’ve got a winning culture,” said Ross. “We knew they would play with intensity.”
The Pioneers had trouble at the free throw line during a recent win over Columbus Bishop Hartley.
That was not the case on Tuesday.
“Grant and Jackson hit some critical free throws,” said Ross. “You think we talked about that after the Hartley game?”
JA was eight-of-10 at the stripe for the contest.
“For the most part, I thought we executed our game plan pretty well,” said Terrill. “We just made a couple of mistakes in the second half that led to a pair of three-point shots for them.
“We made some costly turnovers at critical times,” he said. “You can’t do that against a team that I consider the best in the CBC.”
Izzard 3-2-11, Welsch 2-6-11, Headings 3-0-7, Begin 2-0-6, Heiss 2-0-5, Walker 1-0-2, Heimlich 1-0-2. Totals 14-8-44.
Three-point goals: Izzard 3, Begin 2, Welsch 1, Headings 1, Heiss 1.
Vernon 5-3-14, Crabtree 4-4-13, Krebehenne 2-0-6, Feasel 2-0-5, H. Davis 0-2-2, O. Davis 0-0-0, Bright 0-0-0, Draper 0-0-0. Totals 13-9-40.
Three-point goals: Krebehenne 2, Vernon 1, Crabtree 1, Feasel 1.
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