Central Noble doesn't make many trips to Fort Wayne.
In fact, the Cougars hadn't played an SAC team during John Bodey's five-year tenure until Monday night, when Central Noble arrived at South Side a week after snow delayed their first meeting. Bodey said the Cougars (21-1) were mostly looking for a high-quality tune-up before their sectional opener next week, but the Class 2A No. 4 squad also came away with an impressive come-from-behind win over the Class 4A Archers, 52-48.
“I didn't know if we would beat them or not; I wanted our kids to compete, and get us better for sectional,” Bodey said. “With our record and what we've done in our record and what we've done in our conference, what we've done with our opponents, we are a good team, and I feel like South Side is a really good team.”
Early in the first quarter, it looked as if the Archers (7-12) might run away from their NECC opponent. Six South Side players scored in the quarter, and the team shot 10 of 17 (58.8%) from the field. The Cougars called a timeout after South Side junior forward Derek Ruch scored to give the Archers a 14-5 lead, and then coming out of the timeout junior forward Jaylen Lattimore hit a 3-pointer to put South Side up 12.
Central Noble senior guard Sawyer Yoder hit two straight shots, one of them a 3-pointer, to stem the bleeding, but South Side led 23-12 at the end of the first quarter.
“I didn't feel like we came out with a sense of urgency, offensively or defensively,” Bodey said. “We were soft with the ball on offense. We were not real assertive and aggressive defensively. And we talked about that at the timeout, we talked about that at the quarter break, and kind of let them know, that effort is not going to win next week.”
Yoder hit two free throws to open the second quarter and quickly took over the game, scoring nine points in the quarter. Meanwhile, the previously hot-handed Archers went cold, making just three of 10 shots in the quarter. The Cougars drew as close as 28-25, although South Side junior guard Ashton Johnson drove through the lane for a basket seconds before halftime to give the Archers a 30-25 lead at the break.
Johnson opened the second half with a 3-pointer, but Yoder's hot shooting continued. He tied the game at 33 and then gave the Cougars their first lead of the game when he hit a 3 to put Central Noble up 36-35. His final outside shot of the period gave the Cougars a 39-36 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Yoder finished with a game-high 26 points, which was crucial as Central Noble junior guard Connor Essegian, who came into the game as the area's leading scorer at 24.5 points per contest, was held to just 14, half of which came in the fourth quarter. He missed eight straight shots starting in the second quarter and continuing until midway through the fourth.
Essegian's drought ended with a 3-pointer that gave the Cougars their largest lead of the night at 48-41, but South Side senior forward Keith King hit a 3-pointer, and then Lattimore scored to cut Central Noble's lead back down to 48-46 with 1:26 to play.
The Cougars escaped with the win after Essegian hit all four of his free-throw attempts in the final minute.
“It's just a whole different style of ball game,” Yoder said of playing South Side. “In the NECC, it's a little more laid back.
“We came here tonight and we knew they had some shooters, but they drove the ball very well. I was impressed.”
Lattimore led the Archers with 13 points, Johnson had eight and Jordan seven.