HAGERSTOWN, Ind. – Free-throw shooting has not always been a strength for Northeastern’s boys basketball team.
It is now.
The Knights’ proficiency from the line is one reason they are in line to defend their Wayne County Tournament title. A loaded lineup deep with talent is another.
Northeastern fended off an energetic and intense Hagerstown squad Friday night with a hard-earned 73-64 victory over the host Tigers.
The Knights were 24-of-28 from the free-throw line — 15-of-16 during a fourth quarter that saw them pull away from, and ultimately put away, a Tiger unit that matched Class 2A’s No. 2 team nearly shot-for-shot in the first half.
“It used to be a struggle for us, so it’s good to see us hitting these shots from the foul line,” said Northeastern senior Grant Esposito, who was a perfect 7-of-7 in free throws. “We work on it every day. If we don’t make free throws, we don’t win this game tonight.”
It was a slugfest from start to finish.
Hagerstown’s Jared Andis was on fire in the first half, swishing five 3-pointers and scoring 20 points over a fast-paced two quarters.
But, Andis also had three fouls in the first half, and picked up No. 4 early in the third quarter.
Northeastern’s 38-36 lead remained a two-point advantage by the time the fourth quarter started. Andy Gevedon picked up where Andis left off, connecting on three second-half treys.
“They shot really well,” Northeastern coach Brent Ross said of the Tigers. “They had a great game plan. I thought they were trying to wear us down, throwing it cross court back and forth early. We quit trapping the top and moved it down to the bottom, which I thought caused them a little bit of problems.”
Gevedon tied the game 60-60 with his third 3-pointer at 3:54 of the fourth, but Northeastern responded.
Esposito hit two free throws, and Tyler Smith, Robert Smith and Nate Reynolds all found success at the line as the Knights outscored Hagerstown 13-4 down the stretch.
Esposito tallied a team-high 18 points and was one of four Knights in double figures. Tyler Smith and Craig Dingwerth each netted 16 — 12 in the first half for Dingwerth — and Robert Smith scored 14.
“We’re just happy to survive and advance,” Esposito said. “They had their home crowd here and they played well the whole game. We just had to overcome a lot of adversity, foul trouble in the first half, and second half.”
Northeastern (10-0) had four players, three of them starters, with two fouls each before halftime.
Andis had a game-high 20 for the Tigers (8-3), while Thorin Stage added 16 and Gevedon 11.
The Knights and Tigers will have at least one more meeting this season, and possibly another come sectional time. Hagerstown travels to Northeastern on Feb. 7 for the Tri-Eastern Conference showdown.
“I thought we did a good job against their pressure,” said Hagerstown coach Bobby Jones. “They make you pay when you do turn it over. They get those quick baskets off turnovers and that really sparked them, got them going.
“I told my guys in the locker room after the game, they left it all out on the floor, played their hearts out. … We battled. We battled with a much bigger, stronger team. If we can take some positives from this game moving forward, we’re going to win a lot of games.”
Stage had eight rebounds for the Tigers, with Gevedon and Martin Block grabbing seven each.
Dingwerth was the game’s leading rebounder with nine. Tucker Shepherd had six for the undefeated Knights, and Robert Smith five.
Centerville faces Lincoln in tonight’s semifinal.
“No matter what our past has been, our free-throw shooting is winning us ball games,” Ross said. “We’re shooting the free throws really well right now.”
Josh Chapin: (765) 973-4463 firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/JoshChapinPI
KNIGHTS 73, TIGERS 64
HAGERSTOWN (8-3)– Andis 5 5-7 20, Templin 0 2-4 2, Daivs 0 0-0 0, Ritter 2 3-6 7, Stage 5 6-8 16, Gevedon 4 0-0 11, Combs 2 0-1 4, Block 2 0-1 4. TOTALS– 20 16-27 64.
NORTHEASTERN (10-0)-T.Smith 4 8-9 16, Dingwerth 6 2-2 16, Esposito 5 7-7 18, Claypoole 1 1-2 3, R.Smith 5 4-5 14, Reynolds 0 2-3 2, Hampton 1 0-0 2, Shepherd 1 0-0 2. TOTALS-23 24-28 73.
Hagerstown 15 36 52 64
Northeastern 12 38 54 73
3-pointers– H 8 (Andis 5, Gevedon 3), NE 3 (Dingwerth 2, Esposito). Rebounds-H 33 (Stage 8), NE 37 (Dingwerth 9). Turnovers-H 13, NE 10. Fouls-H 23, NE 23. Fouled out-Gevedon, Claypoole.