LAGRANGE — Central Noble fans who braved the cold and made the trip to Lakeland Friday were happy for a win, but didn’t get away without some squirming at the end.
The Cougars led by as many as 19 in the third quarter and by 15 going into the fourth before the Lakers cut the margin into single digits and had their chances before Central Noble hung on for a 52-48 Northeast Corner Conference boys basketball win.
The Lakers got within 47-42 when Braden Yoder came up with a loose ball and hit a reverse layup with 2:27 left. Lakeland then had two possessions down by six, but missed three-point attempts each time.
Sawyer Yoder then hit 3-of-4 at the line to score the last of his game-high 19 points and pull Central Noble to safety.
“We found a way to pull it out, that’s what we wanted,” Central Noble coach John Bodey said. “This group’s been putting a lot of pressure on themselves, thinking you’ve got to win every game by 20. Every team in Indiana practices and there’s a lot of good basketball teams in Indiana. There are no easy ones.
“We tell them to enjoy the win. They haven’t done a good job of that and that’s probably on me as much as anyone else. If you get one in Indiana on a Friday night, you’d better enjoy it.”
Myles Smith hit all four of his threes in the first half and finished with 16 points for the Cougars (16-4 overall, 6-2 NECC). Connor Essegian settled for nine points, but yanked down a game-best 12 rebounds.
“We played really well considering our leading scorer didn’t have his best night,” Bodey said. “That’s probably the first subpar game he’s had. We played really well for three quarters.
“In the fourth quarter we got a little tentative. Maybe I should have changed the defense sooner than I did. Maybe they got used to the box-and-one a little bit.”
That was aimed at stopping Lakeland standout Brayden Bontrager, a threat to score from almost anywhere. Bontrager hit a three in the closing seconds to finish with 10 points, and led the Lakers with six rebounds.
“Austin Kugler, Rece Vice and Ryan Schroeder did a good job in the box on Bontrager,” Bodey said. “Sawyer and Miles were pretty good offensively. They picked up the slack from Connor. It was a good team win.”
Bracey Shepherd and Colton Taylor shared team honors for Lakeland (6-13, 4-5) with 13 points apiece. Both hit three-pointers during the Lakers’ fourth-quarter surge.
The Cougars came flying out of the gates and scored the game’s first 10 points. Led by Smith, Central Noble was 6-of-10 from behind the line in the first half, which ended with a 28-16 lead for the Cougars.
The second half began much the same way, with Sawyer Yoder scoring on an alley-oop inbounds pass from Kugler. He and Schroeder later hit threes as the Cougars took their biggest lead at 41-22.
Lakeland finished the quarter with threes from Taylor and Shepherd to get within 43-28 at the last stop.
Central Noble took the junior varsity game 40-27 behind 10 points from both Connor Lemmon and Aidan Dreibelbis. Andrew Eytcheson added eight. Colyn Knepp had six points, and Caleb Sellers and Zeke Wachtman both scored five for the Lakers.