The North Central College men’s basketball team lit up Gregory Arena last Saturday with a 63-62 win in the 182 meeting over the Wheaton Thunder.
“It’s been a good rivalry over the years,” said Head Coach Todd Raridon. “I think the closeness of the schools has presented itself as a rivalry, no matter the year or the sport. For us, it’s always a fun game and fun experience and we’re looking forward to that atmosphere at home at Merner this year.”
After coming off a loss to Millikin University on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, Raridon knew his team needed to refocus and mentally prepare for the big game.
“Our goals are to control the glass at both ends of the floor; we need to be on top of offensive and defensive rebounds, which we have not been lately. That has been our team identity and we need to get back to that.”
“We are being out rebounded, even by smaller teams, and a lot of that is effort. We need to get back to playing North Central basketball,” he added.
And that is exactly what they did.
Going into the matchup, junior forward Kevin Honn, junior guard Jayme Moten, and senior forward Charles Rosenberg were expected to be threats for the Cardinals.
“Every game, they have to come up with big numbers,” said Raridon. “It puts a lot of pressure on them, but we wouldn’t put that pressure on them if we didn’t think they could do it.”
But after an injury to the team’s points leader, Moten, just over 12 minutes into the game, it was the Cardinals reserves that stepped up and kept the score close in the first half, hanging onto a narrow 35-30 lead going into halftime.
Both teams came out of the locker rooms fired up to fight until the final buzzer. The Thunder pulled within one with 8:45 remaining in the game with a three-point shot, but the Cardinals responded with a layup to regain the lead.
It continued to be a close game, with North Central on top, until Wheaton sank a three-point shot to tie the game 59-59 with 2:37 to play. The Thunder’s offense continued to prevail with another three-point shot to make the score 62-59, putting the Cardinals down by three, its first deficit in nearly 28 minutes of play.
After a missed shot by the Thunder, freshman guard Erwin Henry grabbed the rebound and got the ball into the hands of Honn, who made the layup and brought the team within one.
With 34 seconds left, senior center Jack Burchett regained possession and got the ball to Henry, who made the final basket of the night to give the Cardinals a hard fought victory.
On a night when the starting five did not hit double digits, there was one player who stepped up his game to help his team to a 15-5 record for the season.
Henry contributed to 17 of the Cardinal’s points, something that both he and his team needed after only putting up a combined 12 points in the last four games.
“Last night, our main players didn’t put up big numbers, so someone had to step up and that’s exactly what my teammates and I did,” said Henry. “I couldn’t have done it without the help from my team; they believe in me even when I don’t believe in myself.”
Other players who made major plays for the night were Burchett, Rosenburg, and sophomore Evan Fendley, each contributing eight points.
While the win can be attributed to the incredible talent on the team this season, it never hurts to have a packed house of cheering fans for a big game.
“Every time we play Wheaton, it’s a good game,” said Henry. “This game, there was a huge crowd and it always feels good to go out there and play not only for ourselves but for our dedicated fans.”