It was a tale of two halves for Beecher City on Monday night in the opening game of the NTC Tournament. The Eagles fell behind ten points in the first two quarters of play against Neoga, only to re-awaken once the second half tipped off.
Beecher City spent the better part of the night playing catch-up, exerting a great deal of energy to square the game at 40 with three minutes to play. Unfortunately, the tank ran out of gas in the final minutes, and Jake Baker scored his team's final seven points to lift Neoga to a 49-41 decision.
"We've had a lot games where we get in a hole," Eagles' coach Jason Eirhart said. "When you do that, you spend so much energy getting back into the game, at the end you just don't have enough."
Fueled by the scoring of seniors Donovan Riley and Doug Krueger, the Eagles were able to make a game of it in the second half. Trailing 24-14, Riley scored the first six points for Beecher City after the break, awakening a crowd that had been quieted during the first sixteen minutes of action. On two consecutive possessions, Riley found himself unguarded from beyond the arc after a Neoga breakdown, and was able to bury both deep attempts to pull the Eagles within six.
Moments later it was Krueger's turn. Now down 33-28, the forward would go on a 6-0 run of his own, scoring on two separate drives to the basket before his jumper late in the quarter gave Beecher City a 34-33 lead.
"I thought when we penetrated and brought the defense to us, we could look to kick the ball and hit guys on the baseline," Eirhart said. "That's what opened it up."
Ultimately, it was the scoring of the opposition that proved too difficult to overcome. Baker was a force for Neoga in the fourth quarter, atoning for a scoreless third period that allowed Beecher City to close the gap. The junior guard dropped ten points in the final eight minutes, including the seven straight points that put the game away. Leading 42-41, Baker hit the biggest shot of the night, a three-pointer from the right elbow that gave his team a four-point lead with two minutes to go.
"(Baker) usually determines how we go," Neoga coach Clay Haurberg said. "If he struggles early that sometimes gets in our heads."
There was no early rust for Baker on Monday. At the half, the savvy guard had outscored Beecher City alone, accounting for 16 of the Indians' 24 points. The Eagles scored a collective 14.
On top of Baker's big night, the Neoga role players also delivered for Haurberg's squad. Point guard Wyatt Krikie scored nine points for the Indians, and 6-6 Michael Baker was a force in the paint. The senior turned in a full stat sheet, finishing with six points, twelve rebounds and six blocked shots.
"We had to make sure we were executing, setting good screens and running our offensive sets," Haurberg said. "The kids did that real well tonight."
With the win, Neoga has now won five consecutive contests and improve their record to 8-12 overall. The Indians return to action tonight when they take on top-seeded Dieterich in the second round at 6:15 p.m.
"I'm ready to keep playing," Haurberg said. "I'm sure the kids are too. This whole tournament will be wild, and I'm ready for it."
Beecher City's tournament continues on Wednesday when the Eagles take on Windsor. Tip-off is scheduled for 5 p.m.
Neoga 49, Beecher City 41
Beecher City 7 7 20 7 - 41
Neoga 12 12 9 16 - 49
Beecher City - Riley 17, Krueger 15, Barnes 7, McKay 2
Neoga - J. Baker 26, Krikie 9, M. Baker 6, Atwell 2, Maroon 2, Moore 2, Walk 2.