Times Sports Editor
Very rarely does a team coming in on an eight-game win streak have the feel of an underdog, but that was the feeling as Clay City squared off against an 8-11 Northview squad on a modest two-game streak.
Clay City was able to overcome a double-digit first quarter deficit to take a one-point first half lead, but the Knights made enough plays down the stretch to edge the Eels, 54-49.
"That's a good team," Northview coach Ernie Maesch said of the Eels. "We were out to win. We got up 12-13 points early and tried to spread them out and make them foul us. But they are a good opponent."
The win was the closest in the series since a four-point, 71-67, decision back in the 2002-03 season.
Routinely during the Eels' recent eight-game win streak, the Eels have placed several players in double-digit scoring, but on Friday night it was Northview that saw all five starters score six or more points.
Austin Akers got going early, pacing the Knights first quarter blitz with 10 of his 18 points in the period. Northview then saw the Eels fire right back behind Will Kennedy, who led the rally.
The Eels' 6'4 senior knocked home a leaning 3-pointer at the horn to nearly erase the entire Clay City deficit. Northview led 16-15 at the first break.
Clay City began to clamp down on Akers' scoring during the middle two quarters, holding the Knights' point guard to one point over that span. However, McVay felt that Akers did plenty for his team in a second quarter 17-7 burst.
"It's in the middle two quarters that (Akers) makes his team better," McVay said. "They win when he passes and makes his teammates better."
Maesch was quick to agree on Akers' influence.
"(Akers) has (passed) the ball better every game," Maesch said. "He has the ability to find the open guards and if you try and double and triple team him you'll give up open 3's or he'll find the open man."
In the second quarter, Akers got Jonathan Bradshaw the ball for four points and Trent Lancaster knocked home a pair of 3-pointers on the way to a 12-point game.
Clay City struggled to knock down their shots (3-of-13 FG) and the Knights pulled out to a 33-22 advantage.
The Eels proved resilient early in the third quarter as Levi Seymour scored off a beautiful feed from Kyler Rhodes and Kennedy followed off another Rhodes' assist. Seymour followed with an offensive rebound and a score to narrow the lead back to 35-28.
After a free throw from Braxton Griffith, his lone point of the game, Bradshaw followed with a score off a no-look pass from Akers.
The Eels got a three-point play from Kennedy and an offensive rebound and putback from him at the buzzer to get within 40-34.
Kennedy, who scored a game-high 27 points and added eight rebounds in the game, scored 16 of the Eels 27 second half points.
"Not to take anything away from Will (Kennedy), he had a strong game and didn't force anything, but we needed a couple more guys to step forward," McVay said.
Northview's lead grew back to 11 points as Clint Reynolds opened the fourth quarter with a three-point play and Akers scored on back-to-back possessions.
Trailing 47-36 with 3:45 remaining, Rhodes drilled a 3-pointer on a possession that was extended by another offensive rebound by Kennedy.
The Knights, who were in the bonus at the free throw line, kept the door open for the Eels by missing the front end of a 1-and-1 chance three different times.
However, the Eels missed a lay-in attempt off a Northview turnover with under two minutes left.
Akers stepped to the line with 1:13 left, but missed a free throw, Kennedy drained a 3-pointer and the Eels had a ray of hope down 48-44 with 54 seconds left.
The Knights stepped to the line in the double-bonus, but missed both free throws, however, Reynolds grabbed the offensive board and scored perhaps the game's most important points.
Akers followed by hitting three-of-four free throws to push the Knights' lead to 53-44 to offset Kennedy's third 3-pointer of the game at the end.
In the JV game, scored a 48-26 win behind 15 points from Chance Talbot and 14 from Hunter Robertson. Jordan VanHorn added six for the Knights. Clay City was led by eight points from Ben Denker and six from Brylan Jones. Jake Tiefel added four.
Northview improves to 9-11 overall and travels to Vincennes Lincoln on Monday night at 6:30 p.m. The Eels fall to 13-6 overall and travel to North Daviess on Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Clay City (49)
Griffith 0-11 1-2 1, Seymour 2-5 0-0 4, Kennedy 11-17 2-3 27, Rhodes 3-9 0-2 8, Defore 0-2 0-0 0, Heffner 2-3 2-2 6, Newton 0-1 0-0 0, Higgins 1-7 1-2 3. Totals: 19-55 6-11 49.
Akers 6-11 4-9 18, Lancaster 3-9 4-7 12, Reynolds 3-6 1-1 8, Bradshaw 3-5 3-4 9, Musgrave 2-4 2-2 6, Mershon 0-1 0-0 0, Keller 0-1 1-2 1, Robertson 0-0 0-0 0, Wilson 0-0 0-0 0, VanHorn 0-0 0-0 0, Rector 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 17-37 15-25 54.
3-point fieldgoals -- CC 5-23 (Griffith 0-8, Higgins 0-3, Rhodes 2-5, Kennedy 3-5, Newton 0-1, Defore 0-1), Nv 5-14 (Akers 2-4, Lancaster 2-5, Reynolds 1-4, Mershon 0-1). Total Rebounds -- CC 34 (Kennedy 8, Seymour 7), Nv 32 (Akers 7, Musgrave 7). Total Fouls -- CC 20, Nv 13. Fouled out -- CC (Seymour, Defore). Turnovers -- CC 8, Nv 10.