Northrop senior Qualen Pettus said the month of December had left a bad taste in the Bruins' mouths.
Since beating DeKalb in the season opener on Nov. 27, the Bruins had lost six straight, and an injury had kept Pettus on the bench for the first few weeks of the season.
But No.9-seed Northrop got a much-needed win in the first round of the SAC Holiday Tournament at Wayne on Thursday morning, beating No. 8 Concordia 51-34.
"That's probably the highest intensity that we've played with all year, so it was good for the kids to finally get some confidence and understand hey, we're working hard in practice, and it actually translated over to the game," Northrop coach Rod Chamble said. "It felt good to finally take a practice and execute it in a game."
Northrop (2-6) took a 13-9 lead in the first quarter and held on to the lead for the rest of the game, although Concordia senior Brayden Pearson put in a layup just before the buzzer to narrow the Bruins' halftime edge to 22-16.
The second half was scoreless until 5:19 in the third quarter when Northrop senior Tenoah Ridley was fouled while taking a hook shot and then hit the free throw to put the Bruins up 25-16.
Pettus followed with a put-back to stretch the Northrop lead to 11 points, and then junior Khamani Smith hit a triple from right in front of his team's bench to go up 30-18. With just a few seconds remaining in the third quarter, senior Elijah Fincher hit a 3-pointer from well outside the line to go up 37-22 heading into the final quarter.
Pettus, who was playing in his third game of the season and still wore a brace on his right wrist, led the Bruins with 14 points and five rebounds. Smith scored nine points and had five rebounds, 6-foot-7 senior Devin Baney scored eight points and had five rebounds, and Ridley had seven points and seven rebounds.
"It feels extremely good; as you can see I'm trying to get myself back in shape, I'm just running with the team right now," Pettus said of being back on the court. "It felt extremely good to get back out there and spread my wings a little bit."
Chamble said he could see the entire team improve now that Pettus is back in the lineup and returning to form.
"I was telling the other coaches not too long ago, when you don't have your top player, it just throws everything," Chamble said. "Some of our guys had an opportunity to step up. So it feels good, because he knows how to get the ball to everybody, and he's such a threat at attacking all the time that he allows everyone to relax and get ready for shots."
Pettus said he thought the Bruins finished at the basket better than they had in any game so far this season.
"The kids are rushing all the time for no reason, so it felt good that the kids are at least attacking the rim," Chamble said. "It felt good that the kids are starting to be just as aggressive as (Pettus) is. He's the model – hey, if I can do it, you guys can do it."
Pearson led the Cadets (3-3) with 11 points.
The Bruins will have another chance to end December on a sweet note at 2:15 p.m. today, when they will play No. 1-seed Wayne in the quarterfinals. The Generals are led by first-year coach Byron Pickens, who was Chamble's assistant at Northrop before landing the Wayne job.
"Great guy doing a great job over here," Chamble said of Pickens. "He's changing the culture of the game for this program, and it's good to see guys who came up under you get the opportunity to come out and do their thing. His kids look great. They're playing hard, they're buying into what he's doing. It's almost like a practice when you have two teams that know each other so well, so it'll be whoever executes it the best."