BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – They don’t wow you with their athleticism. They don’t overpower you with their height. The Northern Lebanon Vikings silently and slowly put you to sleep with their basketball intelligence.
With their high hoop IQ, the Vikings have taught themselves how to win.
On Friday night at rival Annville-Cleona, Northern Lebanon’s knowledge of winning served it well, especially down the stretch. The Vikings made all the smart and correct plays, held the Little Dutchmen to three points over the game’s final 3:47 and notched a well-earned 54-48 triumph.
The Lancaster-Lebanon League Section Three-Four crossover affair served as the league opener for both squads, six days after the Vikings had defeated the Little Dutchmen 77-57 in the championship game of the Annville-Cleona Tip-Off Tournament. Northern Lebanon is off to a 4-0 overall start for the first time in recent memory, while Annville-Cleona slipped to 1-3.
“Those guys have been doing that,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Gary Bouchette of his troops learning how to win. “But they’ve been on the flip side of that. When Sammy (Light) and Richard (Iwuagwu) were sophomores, I think we lost more of those than we won.
“That’s just experience,” Bouchette added. “That’s playing. You can’t simulate that in practice.”
“That’s a group that has played together a long time,” said Annville-Cleona’s rookie head coach Chris Bradford of NL.”Guys like Richard (Iwuagwu), Sammy (Light), Isaac (Ray) and Daymon (Long), they were able to run their stuff really well. This was Day 19 as a program. We’re very infantile. Paxson (Hayes) going down (in the second quarter with an injury) hurt, but I thought it allowed us to gain some experience.
“Any time you can hold some guys like Light and Ray and Iwuagwu down, you did some good things,” Bradford continued. “We did play some defense. It was the other end of the court that hurt us. The kids should be proud of their effort. They played their tails off. If that’s (Northern Lebanon) the best team in Section Three, we should feel good.”
Derrick Sanders registered a pair of Annville-Cleona buckets at the opening of the final frame to give the home team a 39-38 edge. But it would prove to the Little Dutchmen’s last gasp, and they would never lead again.
Thanks to a Matt Light drive, the Little Dutchmen were within 46-45 with under four minutes to play. But Northern Lebanon recorded eight of the next nine points to grab a 54-46 lead, on a charity toss from Ray with 24 ticks left.
S. Light scored four of those Northern Lebanon points, while Long drove for two and Ray added another foul shot.
“We did what we needed to do,” said Bouchette. “You are going to have nights when the shots aren’t falling. To our credit, we found a way to win. We could’ve folded.
“They played (the Little Dutchmen) better (than six days ago),” Bouchette continued. “They played team basketball, collectively. I don’t think we played as a team. We were trying to do too much on our own. We were forcing things.”
“I think there’s some people who are excited,” said Bradford. “Our junior high kids are seeing the effort our kids are dumping out. I think some of the things we’re doing are sparking some energy, and our guys are feeding off it.
“When we got our first win it felt good, but then it was like, ‘There’s so much we need to do. There’s so much we didn’t cover,'” Bradford continued. “Then in our second game we went up against a team as good as Northern Lebanon. But you feel good splitting it (the tip-off tournament). We want to put out a quality product.”
After Annville-Cleona had enjoyed a surprising 26-25 edge at halftime, the Vikings pieced together an 8-1 spurt to open the second half. Light, who sat out the second quarter with two fouls, contributed seven of those points, as Northern Lebanon assumed a 33-27 margin.
“It’s (playing without Light) going to happen,” said Bouchette. “We need other guys to step up. Tonight we didn’t have that leader, even when Sammy was in the game.
“I hope we learned something,” Bouchette added. “Every game is a learning experience. But I think Annville-Cleona learned a lot about themselves too.”
“A lot of their (the Vikings’) offensive sets go through him,” said Bradford of S. Light. “The kid is a heady player. He can make the right leads. The fact that the kid is a dead-eye (shooter) doesn’t hurt. I think he’s as smart a player as we’ll see. He’s a very good basketball player. But I thought our Light (Matt) played phenomenal.”
Despite his time on the pines, S. Light led all scorers with 23 points, while Ray complemented him well with a dozen. Christian Kreamer knocked down a trio of Little Dutchmen triples and collected 11 points.
Northern Lebanon outscored Annville-Cleona 15-6 at the free throw line.
“In the second quarter, Sammy picked up two quick ones,” said Bouchette. “We were staying with them (the Little Dutchmen). You can always second guess yourself, and sometimes you have to roll the dice.
“Yeah, he (Light) can control the game,” Bouchette added. “I thought we played tonight. But we didn’t play the team concept basketball we’re capable of.”
With Light doing his thing, the Vikings opened an early 12-6 advantage. But with Light on the bench and Northern Lebanon ahead 21-16, Annville-Cleona outscored the Vikings 10-4 over the last six minutes of the first half.
“That’s their main offensive threat,” said Bradford of S. Light. “We certainly would’ve liked to get more of a run when he wasn’t on the floor. I felt like that was a missed opportunity. I’ll be up tonight thinking about it. You have a better chance of winning when he’s not on the floor.”
“That’s a tough, hard-nosed basketball team,” said Bouchette of Annville-Cleona. “They have some hard-nosed workers. They’re going to put it on the line. Even the first game (with Annville-Cleona) wasn’t a 20-point game. They battled all the way to the end.
“They’re (the Little Dutchmen) a tough group of kids,” added Bouchette. “They work hard for him (Bradford). I just want to give them all the credit. If some things go differently, they come away with a ‘W’.”
Northern Lebanon (4-0)
Score by quarter
NL 17 8 13 16 – 54
AC 14 12 9 13 – 48
Total fouls – NL – 13 ; AC – 20
Three point shots -NL – Light (1), Ray (1), Iwuagwu (1); AC -Kreamer (3), Wizar (1)
Fouled out – none
Technical fouls – AC – Light
Officials – Rineer, Crouse, and Newcomer
JV – AC 31 – NL 30