Ultimately, it comes down to the simple fact Huntington North (15-5, 7-0 NE8) makes the most of what it has, game after game after game.
“They’re really good,” Norwell coach Mike McBride said after talking about Huntington North seizing control in the third quarter. “That’s the other thing I want to make sure I emphasize. You don't win this league and go 7-0 and not be good.
“They’re balanced," McBride continued. "They have inside guys, they have guys off the bench who can play their roles. They shoot the ball really well from the three (point line), which means you have to make a decision. How are you going to defend (6-foot-5 center Chazz) Bruce? If you double or help, they’re going to knock down threes.”
Norwell (11-8, 4-3 NE8) took a 20-18 lead into halftime after playing stingy defense and patient offense, helped in large part by sharpshooter Cody Shively’s three three-pointers.
Shively, who led all scorers with 19 points, hit an early three-pointer in the third quarter, too.
Huntington coach Craig Teagle moved his best offensive player, Hunter Hollowell, over to guard Shively. After that, Huntington went on a 12-2 run to seize control. The Vikings scored on back-to-back fast breaks and used three pointers by Luke Pulver and Zach Daugherty to gain control.
“We stopped being lazy on defense,” Hollowell said. “We started breaking down, getting the shooters, talking on defense, knowing where everybody’s at, not losing anybody. Then on offense, we started clicking. We started hitting shots we usually hit, not missing wide-open layups. We were energized to win the game.”
Huntington North tied for the initial NE8 title last year with Columbia City, New Haven and Leo. The Vikings pulled off a bit of a surprise win last week, handing New Haven its first conference loss.
In the win over Norwell, Hollowell scored 13 points, Pulver 12 points, Bruce 11 points (seven in the third quarter), Daugherty eight points and Mitchell Geller five points. That's the type of balanced scoring Norwell’s McBride noted as one of Huntington North’s strengths.
Norwell’s points came from three players: Shively 19, Cole Wilson 13 and Will Geiger 10.
“We’re figuring out if we don’t make shots, we can use other’s assets or tools to get over the hump to not just being a good team, but being a great team,” Hollowell said. “That will lead to beating teams like Homestead in the sectional, which is what we’ll have to do.”
While the win over Norwell was a low-possession, low-scoring game, Huntington North can play a higher paced game when necessary, as in its 70-69 overtime loss to Carroll on Feb. 1.
“We talk a lot about dictating tempo,” Teagle said. “Dictating tempo to me is not about playing slow. Tempo is go fast when you need to, slow when you need to. We want to play both ways, whatever is to our advantage.”
McBride, who is in his first season at Norwell, says he sees Teagle’s coaching style taking a strong hold in Huntington. Teagle has a streak of 16 straight winning seasons.
“They’re in Year 2 of what Coach Teagle wants them to do and it looks a lot more like his Jay County teams than they did last year,” McBride said.
Huntington North has not won a sectional since 2001. Teagle has made tremendous strides and the Vikings have a strong chance to post the most wins since the school won 18 games in 2005-06.
“It’s just our overall camaraderie,” Bruce said. “We all work well as a team. We do get in scuffles, just like a family, but I do consider us a family and we get it done.”
That might be the best description of this year’s Huntington North Vikings: They get it done.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.