NEW PARIS — Tri-County North did just enough against host National Trail to earn its fourth straight win.
The Panthers were solid from the free throw line in the second half, mainly the fourth quarter, to hold off the host Blazers on Tuesday, Dec. 19, for a 54-42 Cross County Conference win.
North scored the first seven points and led 12-2 late in the opening quarter. The Panthers never trailed but saw Trail close within two points early in the third quarter.
The Panthers led 12-5 after the first quarter and just 17-13 at the half.
North was able to extend its lead to 33-27 by the end of the third quarter.
The Panthers opened the fourth quarter with a 6-2 run to take a 39-29 lead, forcing Trail to play catch up. The lead grew to as many as 14 as North made 12-of-16 from the foul line.
“Every team coached by (Mike) Harrison is going to play good defense. Anytime you play National Trail you know that they are going to play good defense,” North Coach Joe Smith said.
Smith said his team was focused on shutting down Trail freshman Cameron Harrison.
“Our plan was to not let (Cameron) Harrison get hot. At one point we boxed and oned him for a few possessions and we faced guarded him,” Smith said.
Cameron Harrison finished with eight points.
Smith said he felt his team found its groove in the second half.
“In the second half my team finally started playing as a unit. It wasn’t the individual stuff. We started moving the ball a little better,” he said “Really, it wasn’t the offense I was worried about it was getting those rebounds. We were able to do enough to keep that lead spaced out enough that come the last two minutes we kind of put them in a spot where they were either going to foul or start chucking shots.”
Dillon McCullough paced North with a game-high 25 points, including going 6-for-6 from the foul line in the fourth quarter. The senior scored 17 of his points in the second half. Freshman Dylan Stinson connected on a pair of 3-pointers and finished with eight points. Junior Preston Jackson scored all seven of his points in the second half. Junior Brian Stinson and junior Bailey Lairson each chipped in with six points.
For the game, North knocked down six 3-pointers.
“We’re definitely smaller than a lot of teams. We know that we’ve got to shoot the ball at a decent percentage to have a chance,” Smith said. “We want to get going by trying to get a couple of layups, but if it’s there and your feet are set, I’ve given everybody pretty much on the team permission to take the shots. Just be confident you’re going to make them.”
For the Blazers, coach Mike Harrison was not happy with his team execution.
“Very simple. We do not execute well enough to beat a quality team like Tri-County North and until we get that straightened out we won’t beat teams like Tri-County North. Period. North’s good, but we had to try and beat two teams tonight, because we were just terrible. I don’t want to take anything away from North because they’re part of our problem,” he said. “The bottom line is we didn’t execute what we wanted and North is a very good basketball team.”
Dalton Mason led the Blazers with 13 points and sophomore Zach Woodall added 10.
The win was the fourth straight for North, which improved to 4-1.
“It’s been a long time since Tri-County North has had four in a row. We’re really trying to do something special this year. We’re tying to do something that people don’t expect out of North,” Smith.
North hit a bump later in the week when it dropped a pair of games to Franklin-Monroe and Carlisle to see its record fall to 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the CCC.
Trail rebounded with a 57-50 win over Middletown Madison on Friday to improve its record to 5-3 overall. The Blazers are 1-2 in the CCC.
North returns to action on Friday, Dec. 29, when they play Springfield Northwestern in the Preble Shawnee Holiday Tournament. The game is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. The championship and consolation games are slated for 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. The Panthers junior varsity will play Friday at 12:15 p.m.
Trail will host Dixie on Friday, Dec. 29 and will travel to Seton Catholic (Richmond, Indiana) on Tuesday, Jan. 2.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH