The Newton boys basketball team had a chance to claim victory from what seemed like certain defeat, but two three-point attempts in the final minute by Tyler Wood both rimmed out giving Pella a 48-47 victory. It was a valiant attempt by the Cardinals to come back from an early hole, but they could never quite dig themselves out.
Pella’s Issac Naaktgeboren came out on a mission to make a statement in the paint. He banged and bruised his way to 14 first half points to put Pella in control early. The Cardinals trailed by six points at the half despite getting very few stops early and having to lean on Sophomore Nick Easley for a lion’s share of their scoring.
The second half was a completely different story, however. The rest of the team began to get into the flow of the game on both ends. As Newton Coach Nick Wilkins noted, their defensive help around the basket vastly improved following the intermission.
“He was killing us in the post and with the pump fake, and that’s what we were expecting coming in,” Wilkins said. “We told the guys to sit on that and we also stressed that the help defense needed to improve if we had a chance to win. We did a much better job of that in the second half”
The strategy nearly got the Cardinals the victory. (Isaac) began to tire and was forced to take mostly long distance shots, of which he only managed to connect on one from the corner. The Cardinals’ defense tightened up inside and it was very evident that by the end of the game (Isaac) was gassed. He missed the front-end of a one-and-one to give Newton a shot at the win.
The Cardinals called a timeout to draw up a play. However, things did not go according to plan as Easley got trapped in the backcourt, forcing Coach Wilkins to call yet another timeout. Wood got a good look at a corner three but could not connect as time expired and Pella breathed a sigh of relief.
Despite Easley’s late-game struggle, he was one of the main cogs in leading the comeback attempt. His 10 first half points were crucial if the Cardinals hoped to remain in the game. Also, his ability to bring the ball up the floor, keep everybody involved and penetrate allowed his teammates to catch fire in the second half.
Wilkins expressed how proud he is with the progress the sophomore has made this year. “You know we brought Nick along slow. He’s just a sophomore but we continued to up his minutes as we saw the progress he was making.” Wilkins also versed his confidence in Easley, despite the loss. “A lot of teams have two guys back there to bring the ball up. We want Nick and all the guys to know ‘You’re our point guard. You’re our guy. You’re it. Get it to Nick.”
No doubt Easley stood out as a scorer and facilitator, swinging the ball around the top and pressing the issue up the floor when he had his man beat. His 12 points led the team.
After just having snapped a losing streak last game, this was a really difficult game not to win. The team did show plenty of fight, though. That alone was a big improvement according to Wilkins
“I told the guys to keep their heads up. No hanging heads after a game like that.” Wilkins noted, “You know since the break, before Christmas Break we had a lot of games where we just had no effort out there. And ever since we got back from break you can tell the energy and the effort level has really improved, and that’s really all we ask for out of our guys.”
We’ll have to wait to see if that energy level continues when the Cardinals face off against Norwalk on Friday.