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Wolfpack nip Cougars in wild finish


February 08, 2012
Friday night's rival game between Crawford County and North Harrison in Ramsey was like the old days: Both teams with winning records and playing well. Both teams not giving an inch in either direction. The night coming down to the last second and a final shot in a game that you really hated to see either team lose. In the end, it was the Wolfpack on top in a game that will go down in the books as one of the all-time classics.

"As a coach, you don't want it to come down to that, obviously, but, when you play a rival, you kind of expect it to come down to that," Crawford County coach Mike Brown said. "I thought North Harrison played very well."

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Crawford County’s Eric Harned and Jordan Nickelson pin North Harrison’s Cody Smith into a corner in the first half of the Wolfpack’s 65-64 win. “We had made our minds up that we were going to play our zone but trap him every time he got it,” Crawford County coach Mike Brown said. Photo by Wade Bell
"I came over here my first year and we played, I think, a little harder than them, and they hit a shot on an inbounds play under the basket with about 0.5 (second) on the clock, lobbed it in and scored at the buzzer to beat us," Brown said. "You're going to get games like that when you get two teams that are rivals like this. This is a game your kids will remember."

"They're a good team, and they played a good game and made a good play at the end to win," Cougars coach Greg Walters said. "We've lost two games in the last 10 seconds, so we're not happy. Just competing isn't enough. We want to compete with every team, and we've talked about these last five games."

Both teams led in the first quarter, with Crawford County canning a pair of threes then the Cougars responding with an 11-2 run to lead 13-8. Zach Thomas came off the bench for a Wolfpack three, but John Martin scored inside to keep the Cougars in front by four.

Crawford County had begun the game in a 2-3 zone defense but was keeping an eye on North Harrison shooter Cory Smith, who has four games at 30 points or more this season.

"We were in our 2-3, but we were trapping him every time he got the ball," Brown said. "The problem became for us — and our defense wasn't bad, when you give up 20-something points the first half and he only had five — was we didn't score."

The Cougars continued to keep a hold over the Wolfpack in the second period, with Colin Book and Tyler Bement scoring early to push North Harrison's lead to eight. Isaac Bowles later buried a pair of three's and Johnny Schwartz scored inside and got a freebie to pull Crawford County to within one.

The Cougars, however, finished the half with a 9-0 run to take a 31-21 advantage to the locker room at the break.

"At halftime, they had five guys with five or six points," Brown said of the Cougars. "We knew at home they're going to hit some of those. The second half we played more man (defense) just so we could keep track of everybody else. At halftime, Smith has five and he's not hurting us but everybody else is."

"We were making key shots and playing pretty well," Walters said. "We were getting key stops on defense. Bowles had a big first half. I was a little disappointed at halftime that we weren't able to defend him a little bit better considering we had worked on it all week. He's a really good player and played a good game."

The Cougars led through most of the third period until Jordan Nickelson hit a jumper to put Crawford County up by one, 43-42, with 40 seconds left.

North Harrison's Dalton Fessel got a put-back at the last second, and the Cougars held the edge, 44-43, with one quarter left.

The game got tighter and the gym got louder in the fourth period as the teams swapped the lead until Book and Smith put the Cougars up by six, forcing Crawford County to call time-out with 3:23 left.

Crawford County slowly chewed into the Cougar lead until Bowles canned a three-ball with 1:11 to go, closing the game to one point.

Book got a free throw and Martin added two more as the Cougar lead went back to four.

Crawford County again called time-out, and, right after the break, Harned drilled a three from the left corner to tighten the game to one, at 64-63, with less than 30 seconds left. The Wolfpack again called time-out after the shot.

"Eric Harned did nothing the first half and did everything the second half," Brown said.

North Harrison turned the ball over with 20.5 seconds left, and two seconds later the Wolfpack used their last time-out.

Both teams then had critical turnovers, but North Harrison's proved to be more costly as Nickelson connected on a short jumper for a 65-64 Crawford County edge.

The Cougars called time-out with five seconds left.

As North Harrison brought the ball down the court, Crawford County knocked it out on the Cougars' end with 0.6 second to go. The Wolfpack smothered Smith on the inbounds which went, instead, to Martin. Martin's shot went left of the basket, and the Wolfpack celebrated the one-point win.

"If you're going to come back from down 10 at halftime, you have to make some big plays and you have to slowly work yourself back into it," Brown said. "I thought there was a lot of runs by both teams the second half."

"We did everything right till the last 20 seconds," Walters said. "We had the game where we wanted it. We were playing our best to compete with them. It's things we work on every day. Every week in practice we have that scenario, and just didn't make the right decisions."

Crawford County put four players in double figures with Bowles leading the way with 23. Harned followed with 17, and Nickelson finished with 12. Schwartz added 10 for the Wolfpack, who hit 19 of 45 shots from the field (42 percent) and 20 of 27 free throws. Crawford County had 14 turnovers.

"It just came down to us kind of making our minds up that we were going to have to score in the paint if we were going to win the game," said Brown, whose team had four points in the paint the first half but 14 in the second. "Once our kids started doing that — I don't think we shot a three the third quarter — we made up nine points. The first half all we looked for was three's."

The Cougars also put four players in double figures as Smith scored 15, Book 13, Austin Nolot 12 and Martin 10. North Harrison connected on 22 of 49 shots from the field (45 percent) and 14 of 20 free throws. The Cougars had 16 turnovers.

"We really put it to the test tonight to come out and give them a good game," Walters said. "We played the game just like we wanted with some of the things we've done well. Even in previous games, we've been in the same situation and been able to inbound the ball and win the game. It was just some miscommunication, I suppose, and we didn't make the right play at the right time."

"I think both teams put a lot into this game," Brown said. "Both teams deserve credit. We just happened to be in the right spot at the right time."

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Barbara Shaw
Schuler Bauer
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