BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – The Elco boys’ basketball team can pose match-up difficulties for opponents. But the Northern Lebanon boys can cause some problems of their own.
About three times more than the Raiders.
On Monday night, three Viking guards were worth more than a Raider big, as Northern Lebanon downed Elco 73-61 in a Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three affair, before a nice gathering of weather-braving onlookers. The Vikings’ back court triumvirate of Sam Light, Isaac Ray and Richard Iwuagwu combined for ten three-pointers and all but six of the Vikings’ point output.
It was the play of Light, Ray and Iwuagwu in the open floor and full court, late in the second quarter, that produced the Vikings 42-30 halftime advantage. The sides effectively traded baskets during a near run-less second half.
The win was Northern Lebanon’s eighth straight overall over Elco, a streak that includes the Vikings’ 57-49 triumph over the Raiders nine days ago in Northern Lebanon’s Christmas Tournament. Northern Lebanon improved to 7-3 overall and 2-3 in Section Three, while Elco fell to 4-6 on the campaign and 2-4 in the circuit.
“It’s getting better,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Gary Bouchette of his club’s outlook. “But we’re still not where we need to be to win those big games. We’re in every game and it’s down to the wire. That 7-3 could easily be 8-2, or 6-4 or 5-5.
“I give Elco credit,” added Bouchette. “They have some tough basketball players.”
“We had 15 turnovers,” said Elco head coach Brad Conners. “But despite that, offensively we played well enough to win. We shot 58 percent for the game. This is the first game where I felt like our defense let us down. Light is a headache. But it was the other guys who beat us.”
Clinging to an 18-16 edge early in the second quarter, the Vikes opened their scoring in the stanza with four consecutive treys – two from Light and one each by Ray and Iwuagwu. The resulting 18-6 spurt gave Northern Lebanon a 36-22 lead, on a conventional three-point play from Iwuagwu, 1:51 before the break.
“I told our guys they’ve got to be happy with what it was at halftime because (Elco sophomore Colton) Lawrence was on the bench six or seven minutes with foul trouble,” said Bouchette. “But I thought we ran our offense a little better. I thought we stuck to the game plan. We didn’t have too many wild shots.
“It’s a fun team,” added Bouchette. “This is probably the first year we ran. We didn’t have the bodies to do it before.”
“Getting wins early is always helpful,” said Conners. “The kids have a little more bounce in their steps. We want to win. We want to compete. There’s two games out there, we were there and let them go. We’re a young team. We’ve got some seniors, but we also got some young players who are in key spots.”
Light, the leading point producer in Lebanon County, poured in 29, on ten-for-14 foul shooting. Iwuagwu complemented him with 21 points and Ray supported him with 17.
Lawrence matched Light’s total with 29 of his own, but no other Raider netted more than seven points. Northern Lebanon shot a blistering 60 percent from three-point land, and also out rebounded the Raiders 23-17.
“Everybody knows Sam,” said Bouchette. “But honestly, what determines wins or losses isn’t Sam, it’s the other guys. Sam’s going to score his points. Are the other guys going to contribute? That’s the key for us.”
“They’re (the Raiders) battling,” Bouchette continued. “Their guys are grinding it out. Lawrence was a beast. He was manhandling us in the post. How do you stop it? You’ve got to deny him the ball, but he’s still going to find a way to get it. He’s quick. And he’s got some quick hops.”
“We’re always looking for other guys to chip in,” said Conners. “Earlier in the season, Derek Miller was scoring for us, but we haven’t had that second guy in a while. We have guys who are capable shooters. We’re looking for guys like Austen Davis and Caleb Buchmoyer to have coming-out games. But we’re kind of a one-man show right now.”
Elco pulled to within 55-49 on a Lawrence foul shot with 1:31 to go in the third period. But Northern Lebanon rediscovered its groove in the fourth, and opened a 71-57 margin, on a Light drive with 2:55 remaining.
“Yeah, we kind of traded baskets in the second half,” said Bouchette. “It’s not what you want to do. But you can do it when you have the lead.
“We shot the ball well tonight,” Bouchette continued. “I thought we picked our shots better. Tonight we shot open shots. Tonight our ‘threes’ were open shots.”
“We ran some high-low to start the game,” said Conners. “At the end, we just looked to pound the ball into Colton. He got into early foul trouble. But the big thing for me is the 15 turnovers. That’s 15 times we didn’t get an opportunity to score points.”
Eight unanswered points early staked the Vikings to a six-point lead. But when Lawrence and Jared Starry nailed back treys in the middle of the opening stanza, Elco was within 13-12.
“Our game with Manheim Central was a battle,” said Bouchette. “The good news is we get them again. We’re in a game every single night. We still need to fix a couple of things. Sometimes we get caught up in the game.”
“Offensively, we finally put a game together that was good enough to win,” said Conners. “The kid (Light) can get open. He’s good. We tell our kids, ‘don’t let him touch it’, and he still gets the ball.”
LEBANON SPORTS BUZZ
Lebanon County Boys’ Basketball Rankings
1. Cedar Crest
2. Lebanon High
3. Northern Lebanon
4. Lebanon Catholic