DEARBORN, Mo. — Perhaps fittingly, Northland Christian came up with the final bucket and kept the final margin at single digits.
North Platte led nearly the entire way, but missed free throws and turnovers against the press kept allowing the Trailblazers to hang around. Jesse Martin and Hunter Hendricks combined for 30 points in a 56-47 on Monday, Dec. 11 at North Platte High School, but the Panthers didn’t lead by double digits until the closing moments and even that didn’t last long.
Still, North Platte did enough to stop a three-game losing streak despite shooting 14 of 31 on free throws overall.
“I think we just got frustrated and lost the turnovers when we were getting mad and getting trapped,” Hendricks said. “It was a good game, a good team effort. We’ve just gotta keep working.”
North Platte threatened to create separation numerous times but never quite followed through on the promise.
Hendricks, starting at point guard and leading the Panthers in scoring through five games, converted a three-point play with a tough layup and free throw on the opening possession of the fourth quarter to make it 40-33. Northland Christian quickly chipped back and missed a free throw and then a shot after an offensive rebound while trailing 47-45.
North Platte senior center Bart Owens converted a three-point play to finish with 10 points, putting the game away with 50 seconds to play. The Panthers continued to struggle at the line, but a pair of free throws for Corbin Green made it 56-45 on a three free throw possession that ended with 22.6 seconds to go.
“We’re still young at the guard,” North Platte coach Tim Sutton said. “They’re just slightly out of their comfort zone, but I’d really say when it came down to it they had their heads up, their eyes up, and just went and made some plays. We did make a few free throws — enough free throws — late.”
Hendricks hit a pair of 3s in the first quarter to start his strong showing, but North Platte also went 1 of 4 on free throws in the opening quarter.
Down just 13-10 after 8 minutes, Northland Christian took a brief lead in the second quarter before a 3 for Panthers sophomore Caine Huffman made it 16-14. They didn’t trail again despite missing all three free throw attempts in the second quarter.
Up 23-21 with 1:17 left before halftime, North Platte pulled the ball out against the Trailblazers’ zone and held for a final shot. Martin ended up with the ball on the left block before dribbling across the lane and firing in a no-look layup from an absurd angle on the baseline.
The unorthodox shot came on the look North Platte wanted and gave the Panthers a four-point lead at the break.
“We got exactly what we wanted,” Sutton said. “I’m not going to criticize the move Jesse made, but given the exact alternative, I’d like to see him power up right through (the defender) and draw a foul. But he went up and scored.”
Martin scored nine in the first half and then six more in a dominant third quarter. He started with senior Austin Snook unavailable, away from the team for a family obligation.
Add in the preseason loss of senior Remington Wilson to injury, and Sutton utilizes three sophomores. North Platte entered off an 0-2 showing in the KCI Conference Tournament and started a busy pre-holiday stretch, which continued with a Tuesday, Dec. 12 home game with Midway (result not available).