With 6:25 remaining in the contest, the Northwood (Lena) Gators boys’ basketball team appeared to be on the ropes as the Montgomery Tigers pulled within single digits of the lead, thanks to a 10-2 run.
Then momentum shifted just as swiftly.
The Gators closed the game out with 27 points in the final six-and-a-half minutes to take an 83-59 win over the Tigers in the District 3-1A opener for both teams.
“We let them get good looks at the goal from the 3-point line and they cut it to nine,” Northwood coach Troy Grigg said. “Then we stepped our defense back up and we have a tendency to do that, but we can’t do that against teams. Any teams, it doesn’t matter.”
Northwood (14-5, 1-0 3-1A) junior center Michael Layssard was the catalyst for the team’s surge as he took advantage of a Tiger technical foul by making three of four free throws en route to scoring 10 points in the final quarter with a raucous crowd filling the atmosphere.
“It was a tough win,” Layssard said. “They had lots of shooters that were coming down when we were up 25 and they hit their shots, keeping them in the game. So we had to keep our intensity up and not hold our heads.”
Montgomery vs Northwood Friday, Jan. 9, 2015.
Layssard was a big presence for the Gators as he recorded a 20-20 game with 28 points, 21 rebounds and two blocks.
“Mike’s a big presence on the floor,” Grigg said. “A lot of the fans holler and say that he’s over the back, but he’s not touching them. He’s just standing straight up.”
Aside from Layssard, Northwood also made eight 3-pointers down the stretch to help with point guard Tyree Clifton ending the first and fourth quarters with two buzzer-beating threes to highlight a 14-point outing.
Montgomery (9-6, 0-1) received a great contribution from Trey Turner, who scored 31 points — 13 in the third quarter — to lead the visitors back.
“In the third quarter, we relaxed,” Northwood coach Troy Grigg said. “We didn’t do the job defensively and we didn’t execute on the offensive end like we did in the first half.”
Yet, the Gators lengthy frontcourt kept Montomery at bay from doing much damage in the later stages for the fourth.
“They’re really good and they always looking towards me with the ball,” Layssard said. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have it.”
The Gators will try to clean up some of those issues Tuesday when they travel to LaSalle, while Montgomery hosts St. Mary’s.