COLUMBUS — A jaw-dropping defensive effort during the first three quarters allowed Seymour’s boys basketball team to survive a nail-biting fourth quarter in a dramatic 56-46 victory over Columbus North on Saturday night.
The Owls (2-0) limited North (2-1) to just seven first-half points and 13 after three quarters. When Eli Meyer fed Marcus Brooks for a layup just four seconds into the fourth quarter, Seymour held a 30-13 lead and seemed poised to cruise to an easy victory.
Instead, North deployed a desperate full-court press that in turn seemed to wake up its moribund offense.
The Bull Dogs scored 33 points in the final period and cut Seymour’s lead to eight with 1:42 left on the clock. The Owls maintained their composure down the stretch, however, and secured the 10-point win.
“This is a very good win for our basketball team, and a very good win for our basketball program,” Seymour head coach Kirk Manns said. “It got kind of Helter Skelter there at the end. We made some good basketball plays down the stretch when we needed them.”
Saturday’s win was the Owls’ first over Columbus North since February 2009, mercifully ending the Bull Dogs’ 12-game winning streak against Seymour.
Perhaps an even more impressive historical fact: this is the first Owls team to start a season with a 2-0 record since the Steve Brett-coached 1994-95 squad opened with wins over Lawrenceburg and Columbus East.
“At the beginning of the week, coach Manns brought out a unique term,” Owl senior Andrew Levine said. “He said we need to come out with ‘mature swagger.’ All week, we knew that we could do this, we just had to put in the extra effort to get on top of this team.”
North averaged 69.3 points during its 12-game winning streak. On Saturday, it appeared the Bull Dogs would not reach half of that number as they shot just 4-for-23 from the field in the first three quarters and ended the game shooting 30 percent (13 for 43).
Seymour held North scoreless for nearly 11 minutes in the first half, allowing the Owls to convert a one-point deficit into a 14-3 lead. Manns’ team then imposed a four-minute defensive lockdown on North to start the second half and extended its lead to 21-7.
The Owls would eventually build their lead to 19 early in the fourth period.
“We guarded really well tonight,” Manns said. “We were limiting them to one shot and rebounding the ball well. In the third quarter, we got off to a great start and that kind of propelled us and kept them playing from behind.”
Leading 14-7 with two seconds left in the first half, Brooks heaved a full-court in-bounds pass that Meyer tapped to Levine who put in a layup just before the buzzer sounded.
Brooks then made three layups in the opening minutes of the second half to give his team a 14-point lead.
“Marcus had a big night, scoring-wise,” Manns said. “He was very good at getting behind North’s 3-2 zone defense.”
Brooks finished with his second career double-double, scoring a team-high 23 points and pulling down a game-high 12 rebounds.
“Their zone opened up the baseline,” Brooks said. “I tried to find a spot that was open, and my teammates got me the ball.”
For the second straight game, Levine came off the bench and sparked the Owls with 12 points and eight rebounds.
“My role right now is to do whatever the team needs me to do,” Levine said. “The last two games, providing that spark has been my role.”
Levine added five assists, one of which was a crucial press-breaking pass to Brooks for a layup with less than two minutes remaining in the game.
“We got a great lift from Andrew again tonight,” Manns said. “He does a lot of different things for us, and we need him to continue to do a lot of different things.”
Junior Landon Fritsch, meanwhile, nearly added a double-double of his own, scoring nine points and grabbing nine rebounds. His seven fourth-quarter points boosted Seymour’s last-minute resistance to North’s surge.
Defensively, Seymour limited North’s 20-point-per-game scorer, 6-foot-8 forward Sam King, to just three points. North’s other top scorer, Cooper Horn, had just four points through three quarters.
“We were able to limit Horn and King tonight for the first three quarters,” Manns said. “Casey (Regruth) and Eli (Meyer) were predominantly on those two guys and they did a great job staying disciplined and taking away their strengths.”
Then came the fourth quarter, which turned into a game of its own. While the first three quarters of action took 45 minutes to complete, the final period was a 35-minute slog.
The two teams combined to shoot 39 free throws while committing 21 total fouls during the last quarter.
North, which had scored 13 points in the previous 24 minutes, exploded for 33 in the fourth. Horn took full advantage of the referees’ quick whistles, making eight of 12 foul shots and scoring 22 of his game-high 26 during the last eight minutes.
Seymour, however, knocked down 13 of its 20 free throws and kept attacking the basket. Brooks, Fritsch, Levine and Bret Perry (twice) all hit short shots down the stretch to keep the Owls in front.
“In the second half, they made a little bit of a run, which was expected,” Brooks explained. “But we kept our heads. We haven’t beaten Columbus North during our careers, so this feels pretty good. There was a lot of music and a lot of dancing in the locker room. We’re excited. This is a great win.”