NEW SCHAEFFERSTOWN – The way the whispers on the street had it, the Northern Lebanon boys’ basketball team wasn’t as good as it thought it was. The Vikings got wind of the murmurs, then went and got all defensive.
On Wednesday night at Tulpehocken High School, Northern Lebanon used an aggressive man-to-man defense to make a statement, early and often. The Vikings barely allowed the home-standing Trojans to get off their bench, and ran away with a 53-30 triumph.
Applying pressure directly to the ball, contesting every shot and never surrendering offensive rebounds, the Vikings did not permit a Tulpy score of any kind until seven minutes of the first quarter had elapsed. In going wire-to-wire, Northern Lebanon enjoyed leads of 12-0 and 20-1.
Consider this: when senior forward Pat Stevens scored on the inside 52 seconds into the third quarter, Northern Lebanon had more points – 31- than the Trojans would score the entire game. D-fense! D-fense! D-fense!
The win upped highly-regarded Northern Lebanon’s early season mark to 2-1. Tulpehocken is now also 2-1.
“Initially, I thought we played well defensively,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Gary Bouchette. “We played really well early and we stopped them. Their (the Trojans’) game plan is dribble penetration, and we kept them out of the lane most of the night. And they had to settle for jumpers.
“It’s (defense) right up there in importance with team play,” Bouchette added. “That’s where I think we have to step up our game.”
In opening its early 12-point bulge, sophomore Isaac Ray, Daymon Long and Sam Light took care of the scoring. Tulpehocken finally got on the scoreboard with 1:09 showing on the first-quarter clock, but it would take another 5:41 for it to score its next points.
Facing a double-digit deficit, the Trojans were forced to press. But time and time again, the Vikings beat the press and it led to lay-ups, offensive rebounds and other sorts of easy hoops.
“We didn’t have a good weekend tournament, so it was important to get back on track,” said Bouchette of the Annville-Cleona Tip-off event. “As in any game, the start is very important. That and the start of the second half are probably the most important parts of the game. We got after them defensively.
“Hopefully it’ll give us a little confidence,” continued Bouchette. “I thought we played better than we did in the opening tip-off tournament. But we still need a couple things. We’re not quite clicking like I’d like. Hopefully this can be a springboard into Friday night (the start of Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three play and a rematch with Annville-Cleona).”
With Bouchette substituting liberally throughout, Northern Lebanon had no less than ten different players notch points. Ray’s 13 showed the way, as the Vikes outscored the Trojans 18-3 from ‘downtown’.
The player who set the tone for the Vikings defensively was junior ‘blanket’ Richard Iwuagwu, who always draws the other team’s top offensive weapon.
“He’s huge,” said Bouchette of Iwuagwu. “Sometimes he’s the guy who slows us down and calms us down. He’s our defensive stopper. I think sometimes the kids feed off him defensively. If you’d see that kid work, you’d know that’s the key right there.
“Tonight it was all man (-to-man),” Bouchette continued. “Middletown (on Friday night) shot 32 free throws against us. Defensively, we weren’t stopping anything. They were penetrating and we were fouling.”
Tulpehocken didn’t reach double figures with its scoring output until three minutes of the third quarter had elapsed. By that time, the Vikings had opened a 35-9 advantage on a charity toss from Light.
“I don’t listen to things,” said Bouchette of the pre-season hype swirling around his club. “I know what we have. I know what we’re capable of. I haven’t seen it yet. But we’re getting closer.
“It’s up to them (his players) it really is,” Bouchette added. “They’ve set goals. They’ve set numbers. Obviously they want to make districts. Last year we were one game short.”
Ultimately Northern Lebanon’s advantage reached 52-23 on a three-pointer from Mayson Yost, midway through the final stanza.
“That team concept is our key,” said Bouchette. “They’ve (his players) got to believe in each other. At times it’s there. At times it’s not.
“It’s close,” concluded Bouchette. “We have a couple of things we need to get over the hump with.”