Northern Lehigh coach Rich Oertner knew his team had its hands full. Jim Thorpe's athleticism and the talented Rashid Epps in the middle made the Slatington Rotary Tournament Championship a tall order.
Things seemed even more imperiled in the third quarter when Bulldog big men Evan Biegley (fouled out) and Nick Pappas (four fouls) both found themself on the bench.
But Bobby Hahn scored 18 of his game-high 23 points in the second half and two freshmen came off the bench to help propel Northern Lehigh to a 75-62 win over previously undefeated Jim Thorpe.
"We were in foul trouble and I put two freshmen in the game," Oertner said in amazement after the game. "Unbelievable response by them. They played fantastic."
Down 25-24 at half, the Bulldogs started to get their inside game on track. Biegley banged in two and Pappas added a basket in the paint.
After a technical foul on Jim Thorpe that saw Hahn drain both foul shots, the Bulldogs led by four.
Then Biegley fouled out and Pappas sat the bench and the Bulldog lead evaporated. Oertner looked to his two lanky freshmen, Caleb Johnson and Lucas Pierce, to fill the void.
Jim Thorpe tried to take control the game. Rashid Epps gave the Olympians what would be their final lead, 39-38.
With the lead and the ball under their basket, Jim Thorpe looked to get Epps a lob underneath the basket. The freshman duo went up with Epps and denied him the opportunity. The ball was batted back and Hahn grabbed the ball and scored on the break to give the Bulldogs a lead they would not relinquish.
Northern Lehigh (6-2) never looked back. Hahn scored five more to extend the lead to six and Jordan Waylan's trey at the buzzer gave the Bulldogs a 48-41 lead going into the fourth quarter.
As the lead grew, the Olympians missed easy chances to score while the Bulldogs turned their transition game into points. Early in the fourth quarter Waylen converted his free throws when fouled on a break and pair of easy layups for Johnson pushed the lead to eight.
"We played well for 29 of the 32 minutes," Jim Thorpe coach Brian Carroll said. "There was a stretch where we missed our defensive assignments and missed easy shots and those defensive lapses killed us."
Hahn took control of the game in the fourth quarter. The speedy guard played keep away, running the offense, drawing fouls, and converting his free throws.
"I learned something tonight," Oertner said of his freshman. "I didn't think those guys could go into that situation and do the job. They did a heck'uva job."
Defensively, Joe Seremula defended Epps and denied him the easy shot.
"We didn't take advantage of the foul trouble as much as we should have," Carroll said. "Give Northern Lehigh credit. They went on a nice little run in that stretch and it was up hill from there."
The 28th Annual Slatington Rotary All-Tournament team included Tyler Kravetz (Palmerton), Rashid Epps (Jim Thorpe), Sam Lux (Jim Thorpe), Bobby Hahn (Northern Lehigh), and MVP Nick Pappas (Northern Lehigh).
DiBonifazio 0-0-0-0, Lux 6-1-3-16, Epps 6-2-4-14, Cinicola 7-3-5-17, Johnson 2-3-8-7, Richardson 3-0-0-7, Clark 0-1-2-1, Moranta 0-0-0-0. Totals: 24-10-22-62.
Seremula 3-3-6-9, Hahn 7-7-9-23, Waylen 4-6-7-16, Biegley 5-2-2-12, Pappas 4-2-2-10, Malaska 0-0-0-0, Glose 0-0-0-0, Johnson 2-1-2-5, Pierce 0-0-0-0. Totals: 25 21-28 75.
Jim Thorpe 17 8 16 21 - 62
Northern Lehigh 11 13 24 27 - 75
Three-pointers: JT - Lux 3, Richardson 1; NL -Waylen 2, Hahn 2.