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COLUMBIA CITY — Heading into Wednesday night’s home game, Columbia City head coach Chris Benedict preached ‘stop the penetration.’
But that’s not all the Eagles did in a statement victory over Fort Wayne Northrop 64-55.
The veteran leadership of a sophomore guard led Columbia City to one of its most complete games of the season shooting better than 65 percent from the field and topping an athletic and sizable Bruins team.
“We did it for four quarters,” coach Benedict said. “We didn’t just do it for spurts. Defensively, we told the guys you have to keep the ball out of the paint ... Really pleased. Those three guards (for Northrop) are as good as we are going to play against.”
From the outset, confidence was noticeable in the Eagles offense — which hit its first four shots and went 8-for-10 from the field in the first quarter.
That confidence was no more apparent than in the play of Derek Hinen. In his first year as a starter, Hinen took control of the Columbia City offense going 5-for-5 from the field for 15 points.
“I just came in with more confidence,” Hinen said. “Really, we just came together as one. Everyone played as one. We tried to go back to our roots. We got away from that. Now we’re starting to get back to Columbia City basketball.”
His performance included making his only two three-point attempts in the first quarter as Columbia City pulled out to a lead early 16-10.
“He’s key for our team,” coach Benedict said. “Tonight, in a game like this, everybody gets to see what he does for us every other game. He does that stuff for us in every game.
“Tonight was really huge because he’s the one guy that can get into the lane, handle the basketball and create for other guys and himself.”
Senior Tyler Mosher was one of those Hinen created for. Mosher scored seven of his nine points for the game in the first half. The Eagles scored 21 points in the first quarter.
Helping the Eagles lead 32-26 at halftime, Northrop’s leading scorer and Purdue recruit Bryson Scott went to the bench with two fouls with 3:57 left in the first half.
The Bruins struggled from the field going 22-of-52 (42 percent) and 4-for-19 (21 percent) from behind the three-point line. Northrop struggled from the inside as well missing breakaway lay-ups. A missed dunk from Chris Cammack with 30 seconds left in the first half told Northrop’s story of misfortune.
However, Scott made up for lost time in the start of each of the last two quarters. Scott hit his first three shots of the third quarter. Scott finished shooting 9-for-15 (60 percent) from the field with a game-high 22 points.
The Bruins were able to close the gap to within two points at 34-32 on a drive to the basket by Scott.
Northrop (14-5) never saw the lead again, however.
Despite being outscored in the third quarter 14-12, two back-door passes showed the fluent effectiveness of the Columbia City offense. First, guard Brandon Gay found Mosher on a back-cut then it was Mosher dishing out one of his own to Hinen with nine seconds to go in the third quarter.
“I just like the way our guys stayed together all night long. They huddled and we told them if you hear each others voices all night long you’re going to be in good shape.”
Columbia City (12-5) held a slim 44-42 lead heading into the final quarter.
Scott again hit his first three shots scoring Northrop’s first six points of the fourth.
Matching him, sophomore Drew Benedict led the Eagles with 21 points. Benedict scored 12 of those points in the fourth quarter including a back-door lob from Gay to give City a 54-46 lead with 2:40 left.
Free throws allowed Columbia City’s lead to balloon to as much as 12 points.
Frustrated, Benedict had two free throws on a technical foul on Scott with 42.2 seconds remaining.
A taller Northrop team was outrebounded by Columbia City 21-20. The Eagles held down an advantage in nearly every shooting category going 7-of-13 (54 percent) from the three-point line.
Four of the Eagles five starters shot 60 percent or better from the field for the game.
Columbia City has three road games to finish out the regular season. According to coach Benedict, this is the game to base all others on.
“It’s a good win against a really good team,” coach Benedict said. “The question is can you turn around and do it again and again. That’s the blueprint if you want to be really really good.”
If Hinen has anything to say about it, this will not be the last.
“This is definitely a statement game,” Hinen said. “We’re going to start heading in the right direction after this.”