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Cougars dispose of Panthers, 72-67

December 07, 2011
It's been a while since the North Harrison gymnasium had as much noise in it as it did Friday night as North Harrison and Corydon Central hit the hardwood for their annual boys' basketball rivalry. The last few years most of the noise has come from the Panthers' side of the court, but Friday the night belonged to the Cougars, who downed Corydon 72-67 in a Mid-Southern Conference matchup.

"I'm trying to catch my breath," North Harrison coach Greg Walters said. "That's as good of a win as I've been around. For our program, it's where we've come and where we've trying to get to. Ö Our guys wanted to come out and prove something."

Corydon Central had no answer for North Harrison junior Cory Smith, who scored 30 points for the Cougars in their 72-67 win over the Panthers. Here, Smith slides between Justin Yates (45) and Bronson Kessinger for a layup. Photo by Wade Bell
"This is huge," said Cougar guard Cory Smith, who put 30 points on the board. "It's our rival. It's a conference game. It's a big win."

Corydon Central looked to be the aggressor early, taking a 12-7 lead. Smith launched his second three of the period to start a counter-attack and, by the end of the period, the game was tied at 16.

"I was disappointed in our defense early," Walters said. "We gave up a lot of layups. We knew we were going to give up defensive rebounds because they go 6-6, 6-4, 6-3. They're big guys and football players, but for us to get beat off the dribble and give up some plays off the back side of our defense because we didn't rotate, that was disappointing early."

Brayden Lander scored for Corydon Central early in second period, but Austin Nolot buried a three to briefly put North Harrison on top. The Panthers instantly responded to go back on top, but the Cougars again came back, as Smith and Dalton Fessel grabbed four points for a 25-22 North Harrison edge.

The Cougars later made a 17-1 run to go up 44-27 until Tyler Shewmaker swished a three. Lander followed with two freebies, and the Cougars took a 44-32 lead to the locker room at halftime.

"Offensively, we were quick and I would have liked to have ended that quarter a lot better," Walters said. "We went from up 17-14, and we should have got one shot there and we didn't. But we're a young team varsity-wise. You take Dalton Fessel with those free throws. He was playing half the JV game last year. You take Tyler Bement, he was playing in the JV game. Austin Nolot was playing in the JV game. These are all guys who wanted to work hard and put the work in."

The Cougars continued to keep the lead in double-digits until Tyler Ross and Chase Burton scored to pull the Panthers within six. Fessel countered with a deuce-and-one for a 49-40 Cougars lead, but Bronson Kessinger responded in the paint.

Smith then drilled his third three for a 52-42 lead. Burton later hit from downtown, pulling the Panthers to within five, 54-49, but Colin Book got a pair from the stripe, and North Harrison had a 57-50 edge with one quarter left.

The Cougars, however, were hungry for a big win and continued to attack. With 5:58 to go, Fessel pushed the Cougars' lead back to nine. Corydon Central kept coming back, and, midway through the period, Justin Yates scored inside to closed the gap to four.

North Harrison continued to pull away ever so slightly, but Corydon Central fought back and was again within four, 68-64, with less than a minute to go. That was as close as the Panthers would get, however, as the Cougars went on to win, 72-67, sending a frenzied student body section to swallow the team in celebration.

"In the past, maybe we were a little scared," Walters said. "Well, all week we've been working at it. The last couple of weeks we've been talking about it. This is just the second game of the season, and, for us, it's a huge win. It's our rival. They've been the dominant team in the area in sports lately and they've got a great roster this year. They've got a really good team."

"We've got to thank our fans," Smith said. "A lot of people came out. There was a lot of effort. We were diving on the floor, taking charges. I like to get the crowd into it, getting our players up and getting a lot of energy."

Besides Smith's 30 points, Book finished with 13 and Fessel came off the bench for 10, hitting all six of his free throws. The Cougars were 18 of 56 from the field (32 percent) and 30 of 43 from the stripe. The big stat was turnovers: the Cougars lost the ball only eight times.

"He's a worker and a great kid," Walters said of Smith. "He comes in and puts the work in and puts up hundreds of shots. The kids on the team, they want to give him the ball. They want to be successful. They want to win. We don't have a selfish person on the team."

Yates led Corydon Central with 16 points, and Kessinger and Burton each had 11 off the bench. The Panthers hit 21 of 52 shots (40 percent) but had 18 turnovers.

"This may be a momentum pusher," Walters said. "When you're sitting down on the mountain looking up and start to climb your way out of it, it's pretty exciting and fun."


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