ALBION — No lead was safe for Central Noble on Feb. 11 against Whitko.
The Cougars (15-4) doubled up the Wildcats (7-9) in the fourth quarter 20-10 to pull out a 65-56 victory.
Whitko hit 14 three-pointers and had two players, Brett Sickafoose and Drake Lewis, sink four each. Sickafoose ended up with 20 points, and Lewis totaled 18.
Even when Central Noble got a 7-0 personal run from Connor Essegian, who finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds, early in the fourth quarter to put them up 55-48, it still felt like the Wildcats could come back at any moment.
“No,” Central Noble coach John Bodey said on if any lead his team had felt safe. “They’re a good shooting team. I’ve watched the last five games that they’ve played, and (Clayton) Ebbinghouse hits four or five threes every game, Sickafoose has hit five or six threes in those games I’ve seen. They have shooters all over the place.”
Six different Wildcats hit at least one three-pointer, and they knocked down six shots from beyond the arc in the third quarter to take a 46-45 lead into the final period. Whitko scored seven times in the third quarter, six times it came from the three-point line.
The game plan for Central Noble was to not allow Sickafoose to step into shots from the outside. Myles Smith guarded Sickafoose and he made it difficult for him to get clean looks.
“(Sickafoose) made a couple of shots. He made four threes but they were contested. He didn’t get hot like he normally does. I thought Myles did a good job,” Bodey said.
Rece Vice and Austin Kugler were tasked with defending Ebbinghouse, and they combined to give up only one three-pointer.
“Myles, Austin and Rece did a good job of making them work for everything they got,” Bodey said.
After a drive from Lewis tied the game up 48-48, Essegian took over by getting to the rim and finishing, sometimes the hard way. He stole a pass near midcourt and drove all the way to the hoop, finishing through contact to setup a three-point play. He hit the free throw to complete the play. After a short jumper and a pair of free throws pushed the lead to seven, Essegian once again barreled down the middle of the lane, looking to get to the rim. Once again, he was fouled, but as his shot fell, he hit the floor hard. He needed a moment before stepping up to the free-throw line and knocking down the free throw. He was a perfect 6-for-6 from the stripe.
“His shot wasn’t falling from deep so he took it to the basket,” Bodey said. “It was hard to get to the basket against their zone. They were shading Connor all night. We got him at the high post a little bit, the short corner a little bit. He just attacked instead of taking jumpers.”
Whitko cut the lead to four points a pair of times in the final four minutes, but Central Noble finished the contest by scoring the last five points and holding the Wildcats scoreless for the last 3:17 of the game.
While the visitors scorched the nets for most of the night, the Cougars struggled from outside. They started the game 0-for-8 and didn’t knocked down their first one until Essegian found the bottom of the net early in the second quarter. As a team, Central Noble was 5-of-19 from distance.
Sawyer Yoder, who scored 22 points and nine rebounds in the win, did quite a bit of his scoring in the second quarter, including following Essegian’s three-pointer with his first one of the night. He scored or assisted on the last seven Central Noble points of the first half to help boost the lead to 32-26 at halftime.
Ryan Schroeder scored 12 points, dished out six assists and pulled down eight rebounds for the Cougars.
Central Noble travels to Lakeland Friday night for a Northeast Corner Conference game.
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