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North Harrison’s Josh Wenning, right, and Paoli’s Trevor Axsom hit the deck hard going for a loose ball during the Cougars’ 67-58 win. Photo by Wade Bell

Cougars finish strong

February 29, 2012
North Harrison guaranteed itself a winning record last Tuesday night in the final game of the regular season, upending the visiting Rams of Paoli, 67-58, to improve to 11-9. For coach Greg Walters and his team, it was an important win.

"We finally got over that hump," Walters said. "That was one of our goals at the start of the year. We've had several of those games go down to the wire where we missed some free throws down the stretch. It didn't turn out our way. Tonight, we were able to make the free throws and win the game."

The Cougars went out in front early, establishing a 12-6 buffer in the first quarter. Paoli, however, had some shooters, and Colton Phelps and Tanner Wroblewski proved that fact by drilling two three-balls to tie the game at 12 after one quarter.

The second quarter was tight with the Cougars failing to gain no more than a three-point edge until finally getting some traction in the final 3-1/2 minutes. North Harrison ended the half with a 9-2 run to take a 30-24 lead to the locker room at the break.

"We got some good looks," Walters said. "We had some turnovers, more than what we usually do. We had seven in the first half, and we're a team that keeps it around 10 or 12 (for the game). That's when we were able to compete, because we don't always rebound with the other teams, but we usually take care of the ball."

Paoli came back to tie the game at 32 in the third quarter. Halfway through the period, however, Cory Smith and Dalton Fessel put together an 11-2 run to push North Harrison's lead to 45-37. Fessel scored all eight of his points in the final four minutes of the period as North Harrison held on to a 47-41 lead.

"He got some big, key rebounds," Walters said of Fessel. "He had five rebounds. We had three guys in double figures, Fessel with eight and (Tyler) Bement with seven. It was an all-around team effort. The guys were able to find our shooters, and they had good looks."

Smith began the fourth quarter plunging three three-balls through the net in a 9-4 burst that upped North Harrison's lead to double digits at 56-45. Those were the daggers that finished off the Rams as the Cougars went on to get the 67-58 win.

"Every game is a big game," Walters said. "For us, just what we've been through the last month with Madison, Crawford County and Clarksville — those were three games we felt like we had won and they made miraculous shots and beat us, we just felt like tonight we wanted to come out and end it on the right note, kind of how we started it and go out on the regular season on a winning note. That's what we were able to do."

Smith had another big night for the Cougars with 28 points, while Colin Book and Austin Nolot finished with 10 each. The Cougars shot 47 percent from the field, hitting 20 of 43 shots. North Harrison canned 21 of 26 free throws and had just 10 turnovers.

"Cory knocked down some big three's there down the stretch when the team was able to find him," Walters said. "It was a total team effort. It's been that way all year. The guys know everybody wants to win and do those things."

Aaron Key led Paoli with 16 points. The Rams hit 22 of 54 field-goal attempts (41 percent) and 12 of 17 free throws. The Rams turned the ball over 15 times.

Walters said the win gives his team the much-needed momentum going into the sectional tournament. (North Harrison faced Salem in the opening round of this week's Class 3A Sectional 30 at Salem. See next week's issue for a game story.)

"Real important because we feel like we've been doing a lot of things really well," he said. "We've been playing some of our best basketball and just came up short. Tonight, it was big for us as a team to finish it off with a winning note. Something we wanted to do as a team to guarantee ourselves a winning record."

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