BIG ESCAPE: Norse Men Pull Out Win Over Alpena
Click the thumbnails to see photos and videos, and to hear post-game comments from Joe Ofori and Coach Matt Johnson.
ESCANABA---The Bay College Norse men's basketball team stayed undefeated in conference play Wednesday night, but it sure wasn't easy. The Norse made big plays down the stretch and pulled out a 77-72 win over Alpena Community College in yet another sluggish performance.
Kairee Gadson's triple with less than two minutes to play broke a 68-68 tie, and Joe Ofori's 15-foot baseline jumper at the end of a shot clock with 33 seconds left to play was the dagger, giving the Norse a five-point lead in a game that saw no double-digit leads for either team.
The win allowed the defending MCCAA North Conference champion Norse to improve to 4-0, with every other team in the conference having at least one loss. Bay went 14-0 last season in regular season conference games, so the winning streak now extends to 18 in a row,
But, again, the Norse had to grind, with Alpena making shots to keep it close, and Bay not playing the best on the defensive end of the ball. It was punch, counter-punch, as the two teams were tied at 62-62 until Baril Mawo made a triple with 4:12 left to give Bay the lead.
The Lumberjacks (4-9 overall, 2-1 MCCAA) managed to tie the game as Elijah Hennings, Davarion Mitchell, and Trevon Johnson all scored on lay-ups against a leaky Norse defense. With the score tied at 68, however, the Norse outscored the Lumberjacks, 9-2, over the final 90 seconds, before an Alpena basket at the buzzer closed the final score to 77-72.
"It's a good team win," a hoarse Bay College Coach Matt Johnson said. "We had a scouting report that they play very, very hard, and that we needed to match that and work as hard as they did, and I just don't know that we did. It's just got to be more consistent. Those giys are too good to have it be hit-or-miss in spots. It's got to be all of the time."
Many basketball teams would give anything to be 17-2 overall, and all alone in first place in their conference. But Johnson says that his team has higher expectations, after coming within a game of a national tournament berth last year and upgrading the roster this year.
"We're winning games, so I don't want to sound too negative," Johnson said. "This is a good team win against a good team. But we just can't keep doing this. We've got to get ahead, be in control, and finish one. They had 18 points off of turnovers, and 16 second chance points. That's 34 points. Thirty-four out of 72. Their possessions, we gave them extra ones."
One area where the Norse were very good was at the foul line. After several games of being at or just above 50-percent at the line, Bay made 25-of-29 foul shots Wednesday night, which ultimately helped them to survive in another tight basketball game.
"That was an emphasis in practice every day," Johnson said. "Put them in pressure situations, and shoot them when we're tired. And shoot a lot of them. We did that this week. We needed every one of them."
In the first half, Genesis Kemp carried the Norse. He scored 14 points, nearly half of his team's total as Bay led, 30-29, at the break. That came after Alpena's Daddy Hill made a shot from half-court at the buzzer after the Norse missed a shot in the lane at the lther end.
Nic Williams started to heat up in the second half, making a basket and a triple to give the Norse a 38-36 lead. Ibrahim Diakite shook off a rough first half by scoring three baskets, including an "and-one", but Hennings kept replying for Alpena. He had a game-high 20 points, followed by 18 points for his teammate Mitchell.
In the end, though, Ofori stood tall. After scoring nothing in the first half, Ofori had 13 in the second half, including a powerful dunk with 4:49 left that gave Bay a 62-60 lead. From there, it went down to the wire, again, with Ofori making a huge jumper on the baseline after Alpena had played 29 seconds of strong defense in a one-possession game.
"That's a shot that I work on a lot of times at practice," Ofori said. "A lot of people don't really think I'm much of a shooter, but, honestly, when I get the chance, I'm going to shoot it every time with confidence. I'm just glad I was able to get the ball and make it. It ended up in my hands and I'm happy I hit the shot. That was definitely not the easiest shot to make. It was a tough shot. But because I'm 6-7, I can elevate over a lot of people."
Williams and Kemp both had 14 points, with Kemp adding ten rebounds for a double-double. Ofori added 13 points in his 18 minutes of work. Once again, ot was just enough.
"I'll take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day of the week," Johnson said. "We did enough. Credit to the guys. They do play hard. A lot of good things. We just have to be better if we want to go on a run down the stretch. And that's our expectation. It's not about winning a couple of (regular season) basketball games."
Bay College will look to keep the streak going this Saturday as a three-game homestand wraps up against the Delta College Pioneers out of the Saginaw area. The Pioneers will come to Escanaba with a 6-7 overall record, 0-3 in MCCAA play. The game will start at 3:00 and will be broadcast live on FM-106.3, and on-line at www.baynorse.com.