BY JEFF FALK
SOUTH LEBANON – It was as close to a win-win situation as one could get in the playoffs.
In giving Cedar Crest all it wanted, Northern Lebanon boys’ basketball team earned a measure of respect. And Cedar Crest got what it was looking for as well – a win to advance.
On Tuesday night in front of a raucous packed house at ‘The Cage’, the Falcons defeated the Vikings 70-52, in a rare Lancaster-Lebanon League playoff meeting between two county clubs. The contest was much more spirited and competitive than the final score might indicate, as Cedar Crest outscored Northern Lebanon 21-6 over the game’s final four minutes.
When Northern Lebanon’s Richard Iwuagwu nailed a trey midway through the final stanza, the underdogs were still hanging around, down just 47-44. But buoyed by athletic moves to the basket by sophomore Evan Horn, a huge trey from Josh Bucher and some timely foul shooting, the Falcons took control from there.
With the win, the now 20-4 Section One champion Falcons moved on to meet Section Four champion Lancaster Mennonite, a 66-53 winner over Cocalico, in Wednesday’s L-L semifinal, at 6 p.m. at Warwick. Northern Lebanon, which was making its first appearance in the league playoffs in 21 years, fell to 17-6 and will see its next action next Tuesday at Susquehanna Township, in the opening round of the District Three Class AAA tournament.
“I thought that’s what we were going to get,” said Cedar Crest head coach Tom Smith. “They (the Vikings) make shots. Sam Light is an exceptional basketball player. And their role players do what they’re supposed to do. I’ve seen him (Light) on film, but that’s the first time I saw him live. And that’s the first time I coached against him. But it was kind of what I expected.
“The atmosphere was awesome,” Smith added. “I don’t know if it’s necessarily a rivalry, but it was definitely a cross-town game. If you’re a player, it’s one you want to play in. If you’re a coach, it’s one you want to coach in.”
“That was great. That was fun, win or lose,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Gary Bouchette. “Right now, it’s not so fun. I didn’t expect it to be that packed. There were times my players couldn’t hear me because of the student section behind me.
“The league playoffs are exciting, but it was also because it was two county schools,” added Bouchette. “Going in, everyone was looking at it like Section One against Section Three. Hopefully we gained a little respect. We battled.”
The Falcons had begun to establish themselves early in the third period. Horn and Andrew Eudy split eight Cedar Crest points evenly, as the Falcons extended a 28-25 halftime margin to 36-27.
“That was a huge adjustment we made at halftime,” said Smith of a second-half emphasis on getting to the rim. “That was the only adjustment we made at halftime. That’s the defense (zone) people try to play against us. They don’t like to come out and play us.
“I don’t know if they (the Vikings) were better than I thought,” continued Smith. “We knew they were good. I wasn’t down playing them one bit. We got what we expected from them.”
“One thing, when they (the Falcons) made their little run, we tried to get it back in one possession,” said Bouchette. “We knew they were going to make their runs. They’re a good team. Their record speaks for itself. You can’t match them point for point.
“We just missed shots, and they made them,” Bouchette continued. “We didn’t make our foul shots (four-for-11). They made some key shots at key times.”
Despite some early foul difficulties, Northern Lebanon had trouble containing Falcon big man Andrew Eudy, who popped for 19 points. Horn was his dynamic self, both offensively and defensively, and tallied 17 points. And Bucher finished with five treys and 16 points.
With 26 points, Light certainly got his, while teammate Isaac Ray struck for 11.
“We weren’t giving away anything to anyone,” said Smith. “They (the Vikings) were taking it. They’re a good team. We wanted to contain Sammy with a ball defender and help. We lost him a couple of times in the first half and he made us pay.”
“I thought Sam did OK,” said Bouchette. “Sometimes he tried to do too much. Sometimes I thought it was too quick. He looks to score, because he’s that competitive.
“Personally I don’t think they (the Falcons) have one major stud,” Bouchette continued. “That’s what gets you, they don’t have one guy who you have to defend. They have so many pieces to defend.”
After weathering an early Falcon storm, Northern Lebanon went on a 13-2 run in the middle of the second quarter, and took a 25-21 lead on a Ray trey. Light tallied eight points in the Viking uprising.
But Cedar Crest called a timeout and then scored the last seven points of the half – a Nick Miller stick back, a Bucher three-point bomb and a Horn ‘take to the cup’ – and led by three at the break.
“They were packing it in,” said Smith of the Vikings. “They weren’t coming out and playing us. And we did exactly what they wanted us to do, settling for jump shots. We weren’t trying to do our thing.”
“It helped that they (the Falcons) got in a little foul trouble,” said Bouchette. “I don’t think they knew what we were in defensively in the first half. They thought we were in a zone, and we weren’t.”
Riding the emotion of the home crowd, it was all Cedar Crest early.
The Vikings didn’t score in the game’s first 3:16, while Eudy and Bucher were staking Crest to a seven-point advantage. After Kyle Blackman had pulled NL to within 13-12 with an offensive rebound, the Falcons re-opened their lead to seven, on the strength of a Eudy jumper, a lay-in from Andrew Eberhart and Dom Garloff put back.
“When I took over, we were playing in gyms where there was no one there,” said Smith. “I told our guys, ‘if you want people to come watch you play, start winning’. As an athlete or a coach, that’s the kind of atmosphere you want to play in.”
“In the first half, it was what we expected,” said Bouchette. “In the second half, it got away from us, especially in the fourth quarter.
“They play a lot of guys and we don’t,” continued Bouchette. “It’s a big court too. Look at our little gym. That might have been something they got us with at the end.”