UTICA — When Utica and Northridge square off, it’s usually a tight, bruising affair. Throw in the fact that second place in the Mid-Buckeye Conference was on the line and Friday’s game turned into an all-out war.
The Redskins turned up the defensive pressure in the second half, then made just enough free throws to hold off the Vikings, 42-36, in front of a packed and loud house at Utica.
“I thought both teams played physical. We were able to accept the bumps in the second half and not turn the ball over when we were hit. We did a nice job handling the ball,” said Utica coach Eric Sheck. “Any time these two schools play, it’s an exciting atmosphere. I’m proud the seniors were able to go out with a win in an environment like that.”
The Redskins (14-5 overall, 11-3 MBC) allowed Northridge to hit just 7 of 27 shots in the second half, including just 3 of 15 from beyond the 3-point arc. That defensive pressure kept them on top in the game, even though they hit just 15 of 31 attempts from the free-throw line.
“I thought we did a nice job defensively. That’s where we hang our hats — we’ve got to play good team defense,” Sheck said. “I don’t know what happened at the line. Our guys usually shoot about 70 percent. It just wasn’t like them tonight, but we found a way to win.”
“I’m almost speechless. They had 31 free throws and we had six. That’s the difference in the game,” said Northridge coach John Wheeler. “I don’t think it was anything in the way we played. We just did not get the calls.”
The teams battled through nearly three quarters before Utica was finally able to get it under control. A technical foul call on Wheeler got the crowd into it in the third quarter and the Redskins responded with four straight points to take the lead.
It was the defense in the fourth quarter that ultimately put the game in Utica’s favor. After a 3-pointer from Nick Nixon early in the fourth, Northridge (12-8, 10-4) did not score again until there was less than one minute remaining in the game.
“Our shots just did not fall tonight,” Wheeler said.
The Redskins weren’t able to put it completely out of range, though, as they scored just six points in that same five-minute span.
The win gave the Redskins sole possession of second place. With just one returning starter from a year ago, that’s something Sheck was very proud of.
“I’m so proud of the kids. We lost to Northridge by one point, to Fredericktown by one point and in double overtime to Fredericktown in the other game. We were right there,” Sheck said. “They busted their rear ends all year. I could not be more proud of them finishing second. There were some who thought we wouldn’t do much with just one returner. But, the kids stepped up and developed their roles. I’m proud of them. They’ve been outstanding all year.”