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Cougars skin Lions, 64-52

February 27, 2019
The North Harrison Cougars finished the regular season on a high note in a rare Thursday night game, rallying from a first-quarter deficit to top visiting Mid-Southern Conference opponent Salem, 64-52. It was the kind of win needed for the Cougars as they go into this week's Class 3A sectional play against county rival Corydon Central at Charlestown.

North Harrison's Skyler Wetzel, center, works his way through a trap set up by Salem's Brody Pepmeier, left, and Shane Mahuron in the second half. Photo By Wade Bell
"It was important for us to finish strong," North Harrison coach Kevin Jones said. "We had a chance in the last 30 seconds to win against Paoli, who's a really good team. Our motto for the year should be 'One Stop Away.' I really feel like we've had about five games that, if we could have got at least one stop when we needed it, we might have won that game. That might be the difference between winning 15 games instead of 10."

The Cougars sputtered out of the blocks and the Lions took advantage, using an 8-0 run to charge to a 14-4 lead. North Harrison finally fired back with Ethan Oakley drilling a 3-ball and Skyler Wetzel scoring in the paint. Max Wells scored inside for the Lions, but Langdon Hatton negated that two possessions later to cut the Cougars' deficit to six, 17-11, at the end of the period.

"Senior night is a tough night, and they've got a lot of emotions," Jones said. "Everybody gets kind of amped up a little bit, and I think our guys were a little bit too amped from the start. We were down 14-4 before we came back and made a run, being able to get close by halftime."

The Cougars continued to chew into the Salem lead in the second quarter. With Salem up by six following free throws by Landon Suvak and Gavin Fleming, North Harrison ran off eight straight points to tie the game at 22. Salem countered with four to take back the lead. Braden Jenkins cashed in two Cougar free throws and North Harrison had a two-point deficit at halftime, 26-24.

"I just didn't think we had the fight that we needed," Jones said of the first half. "I thought they kind of brought the fight to us a little bit and then maybe it was the emotion of senior night. We've got the guys out there who normally start coming off the bench. After sitting there a while, it just took us a while to get going."

Salem went back up by four to start the second quarter with a deuce by Brody Pepmeier for a four-point edge, but the Cougars quickly charged back with an 8-2 run to lead 32-30 following two free throws by Hatton. Trale Howard cashed in a freebie, but the Cougars finished the period with a 7-0 burst to lead by eight, 39-31, with one quarter left.

Jones said his halftime message to his team was just to keep fighting.

"Ethan had a really good first half, but Skyler had some fouls and Jake (Harley) had some fouls, and that kind of took them out of their rhythm a little bit. I didn't think LT (Hatton) fought as much as he should've in the first half, but he did in the second half. That's why we were able to pull away. Braden was playing so hard, and everybody had to match his effort and his fight."

North Harrison's Jake Harley weaves his way around Salem's Brody Pepmeier early in the Cougars' senior night win over the Lions.
Salem traded shots back and forth with the Cougars through the first part of the final period. Suvak put in a deuce to close the gap to three, 43-40.

The Cougars then went on a rage, scoring the next 13 points, 11 of those coming from the charity stripe, including from a Salem technical foul, where Harley sank four straight free throws. The Cougars, at one point, led by 18.

Salem finished the game with a pair of 3-pointers, and the Cougars enjoyed a 64-52 senior night win.

"We played well in the second half," Jones said. "I thought we fought a lot more. We finally started doing a better job offensively and got out in transition and got some easy baskets."

"We've got a big size advantage over most teams," he said. "Their 6-4 player, (Myron) Mead, he's more of a perimeter player. Their guys were playing hard and fighting, and that's what a Mike Brown-coached team is going to do. They're going to scrap and they're going to fight.

"We just had a little bit more size with them and we were able to get the ball down there. We were able to find our big guys when they were down there and they were able to put the ball through the basket sometimes."

Jenkins led the Cougars with 20 points, and Hatton finished with 11. North Harrison hit 18 of 35 shots from the field (51 percent) and 26 of 33 free throws, including 8 of 8 by Harley. The Cougars had 16 turnovers, 11 of those in the first half.

"Braden Jenkins played amazing tonight," the North Harrison coach said. "He was a beast. He's an effort kid. He gives you all he's got, and he was huge for us tonight. Without his effort, I don't know if we win. He's capable of hitting some free throws. We got fouled and got to the line 33 times. That's good. We had a size advantage and we tried to pound it in, and we were fortunate to get some fouls called on them and did a good job of cashing them in when we got to the line."

"We were able to make enough plays to win," Jones said. "We turned the ball over 11 times in the first half and only five in the second. We knew they were going to press and get after us, so our emphasis was to try to take care of the ball, and we thought we'd be able to take advantage of our size once we did that."

Pepmeier led the Lions with 13 points. Salem put up 52 shots and connected on 17 (33 percent) and punched in 9 of 13 free throws. The Lions had just 10 turnovers.

The Cougars now face county rival Corydon Central tonight (Wednesday) in the Class 3A Sectional 30 at Charlestown. Corydon Central coach Jamie Kolkmeier was in attendance at the Cougars' game for a last-minute scouting job.

"We know how dangerous they are," Jones said. "I'm going to Bedford tomorrow (for Corydon Central's game) and sit right behind him. But they're dangerous. (Bradley) Nalley and (Joey) Wiseman are two outstanding players. Nalley didn't play the first time, but Wiseman did more than pick up the slack. He had 38, and we didn't have an answer for him that night. Obviously, we've got to do a lot better job guarding him and contain him.

"You add Nalley to the fray, and we've got to do a better job to stop him. The first time, we had a big advantage rebounding the ball and inside, and they had a big advantage from the outside. We'll just have to see. We've got to do a better job guarding and keep pounding the ball inside and make them play us in there."

Salem 17 9 5 21 - 52

North Harrison 11 13 15 25 - 64

Salem - Head 9, Suvak 8, Fleming 6, Ramirez 3, Pepmeier 13, Mahuron 8, McCoskey 2, Howard 3

North Harrison - Hatton 10, Gutknecht 3, Harley 8, Davis 4, Jenkins 20, Wetzel 5, Johnson 7, Oakley 7

3-pointers - Suvak, Ramirez, Pepmeier 2, Mahuron, Gutknecht, Oakley

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