BEATRICE, Neb. — Class B No. 8 Grand Island Northwest found itself trailing by nine points midway through the third quarter against a Beatrice team that could make that deficit feel more like 20 with the Orangemen's trademark deliberate pace.
But the Vikings dialed in their own defense and held the Orangemen scoreless over the game's final nine minutes and seven seconds in Northwest's 31-26 win Friday in Beatrice.
Northwest (17-4) gradually chipped away at the Orangemen's lead by working the ball inside to 6-foot-4 junior Darrek McNelis, who had six of his eight points in the fourth quarter.
“Coach always has us pound it inside and get inside-out touches no matter what before taking any 3s,” McNelis said. “He wants us to get it inside first, then out.”
Beatrice's final basket — a 3-pointer by Devin Stuart — gave the Orangemen a 26-18 lead with 1:07 left in the third quarter before they went cold from the field. Northwest scored the game's final 14 points, including shutting out Beatrice 10-0 in the fourth quarter as the Orangemen missed all six of their shots in the last period.
“If we played the fourth quarter again, I'd take every shot we took,” Beatrice coach Tyler Struck said. “I don't feel like we forced a shot. I don't feel like we rushed a shot. We had our best players getting 3s, and we did that by getting the ball to our best guy down low, Matt Fujan. He found open guys because (Northwest) wasn't going to let him beat them.”
After McNelis hit both ends of a one-and-one to put the Vikings up 27-26 with 2:39 remaining, Beatrice still had its chances.
Northwest's Alec Waters missed the front end of a one-and-one with one minute left, but the Orangemen turned the ball over on the ensuing possession with a chance to take the lead.
After the Vikings' Zach Rouzee hit a pair of free throws to push the lead to 29-26 with 36.8 seconds to play, Beatrice's Ty Bardsley missed a 3-pointer from the right wing that would have tied the game.
The Orangemen had one final chance to tie after Northwest's Alex Larsen missed both free throws with 11.2 seconds left, but Beatrice's Rylee Zimmerman came up short on a 3-pointer from the top of the key, and Waters hit two free throws with 0.8 seconds left to seal the win for the Vikings.
“The key was just talking,” McNelis said. “If we wouldn't have had communication, we wouldn't have got those steals. We wouldn't have got most of the things that changed the tide of the game.”
Each team hit four field goals in the second half, but Northwest went 10-of-16 from the free-throw line after halftime to come back.
“You've just got to have trust in your teammates,” McNelis said. “No deficit is too big for us.”
For Northwest, the win avenged a 45-42 loss to Beatrice on Dec. 29 in Northwest's holiday tournament and breaks a recent skid for the Vikings, who had lost three of four coming into Friday.
Rouzee and Casey Dahlkoetter each added eight points for Northwest.
Zimmerman, Stuart and Hunter Zarybnicky led Beatrice (11-7) with six points each. The Orangemen have lost five of their last six games.
GINW (17-4) ................. 8 4 9 10—31
Beatrice (11-7) ................. 5 11 10 0—26
GINW: McNelis 8, Rouzee 8, Dahlkoetter 8, Waters 4, Kraft 2, Larsen 1
B: Zarybnicky 6, Zimmerman 6, Stuart 6, Fujan 4, Bardsley 4
Att: 1,200 (est.)