Tigers lose heartbreaker to NL
In a season that has seen its share of heartbreaking defeats, Tuesday's loss to Northern Lehigh has to rank among the most painful for Northwestern.
Playing a team that they had beaten by 23 points earlier this season, the Tigers dug themselves a huge early hole, staged a brilliant comeback, but then stumbled down the stretch.
The result was a 63-57 Colonial League setback.
While the loss on its own might not measure up to earlier overtime setbacks to Wilson and Palisades on the pain meter, when combined with the situation Northwestern was facing, it might just exceed the others.
Northwestern entered the contest needing to win four of its final five games in order to reach the District 11 playoffs. With Colonial unbeaten Salisbury in the mix of future opponents, the Tigers knew their margin for error was slim.
"We talked about this basically being a playoff game for us," said Northwestern coach Billy Hallman. "We felt like this was a game we had to get."
The Tiger locker room following the game proved that to be true.
"The kids are taking it hard," said Hallman. "Our goal is to make the District 11 playoffs and this was obviously a huge game in our pursuit of that.
"We are a little down now, but we aren't finished yet. I expect us to bounce back with a really good effort on Saturday against Pen Argyl. We just have to take it one game at a time and keep battling."
The Tigers' downfall against Northern Lehigh was a slow start.
Northwestern trailed by seven after the first quarter and 13 at halftime.
"I told our kids at halftime that they had to be ready because Northwestern was going to make a run," said Northern Lehigh coach Jeff Miller. "They had a lot to play for and I knew they wouldn't go quietly."
Miller was right.
"Our defense wasn't where we needed it to be tonight, especially in the first half," said Hallman after watching Northern Lehigh register its season-high in points. "We didn't do a good job stopping their penetration which led to a lot of easy baskets."
What Hallman was pleased with was the way his team battled back in the second half.
A big 22-point third quarter that was ignited by seven points apiece from Taylor Breininger and Parker Jones help cut the deficit to 46-40 entering the final period. Jones had both a four-point play and a three-point play in the period as Northwestern grabbed the momentum.
"We rely on three-point shooting a lot because we don't have a post game," said Hallman. "On nights when the threes aren't dropping, we need to drive the ball to the basket.
"We finally started doing that in the second half and that helped us get back in the game."
The Tigers were just 3-for-16 from beyond the arc in the opening half and 7-for-30 for the game.
Despite never really getting hot from long range, Northwestern fought all the way back to tie the game in the final period as Dustin Snyder scored eight points in a span of less than three minutes.
Snyder's final points during his run tied the game at 50-50 with 4:40 remaining.
The Tigers (7-11) went cold again, however, as their next field goal was a Cam Richardson three-pointer with just 1:10 to play.
By that time Northern Lehigh had built a six-point lead that it wouldn't relinquish.
"I'm proud of the way we battled back," said Hallman. "But we could never quite get over the hump.
"Sometimes you expend so much energy fighting back that you don't have much left at the end. I don't know if that's what happened to us tonight or not, but we just weren't able to finish it out once we got even."
Jones led the Tigers with 19 points and Snyder added 10. Richardson and Breininger just missed double digits with nine and eight points respectively.