Northern Lehigh and Northwestern's Colonial League boys battle on Wednesday night was everything that a rivalry game should be. With playoff implications for both sides, the back-and-forth war between the two teams came down to the final shot.
Down by two with 5.8 seconds left to the host Bulldogs, Northwestern successfully inbounded the ball to their clutch shooter Kevin Oxley. Heavily defended, Oxley's shot was short, skimming the front of the rim giving the Bulldogs a 50-48 win.
With the win, Northern Lehigh (14-5, 9-4) strengthened its chances to reach the Colonial League playoffs. Northwestern (9-10, 6-7) will now need two wins in its last three games to reach post-season play.
"Everybody played their hearts out," Dugan said. "We got the ball in the hands of our scorer, but we weren't able to get him the look that we would have liked."
Down for most of the game, Northern Lehigh came back from a eight-point deficit at half to finally take the lead.
Guard Bobby Hahn's runner with three minutes left in the game bounced off the rim and Joe Seremula, known more for his role as a defender, tapped the ball in to give the Bulldogs their first lead since the start of the second quarter.
Seremula's hook shot from the side of the rim on the next possession gave Northern Lehigh a four-point edge with less than two minutes remaining.
"You don't want to lose your rivalry game so you do what ever you can to help your team win," Seremula said. "I had a couple open shots and I figured I had to take them and hope they go in."
Bulldog coach Rich Oertner had one word to describe the game: Ugly.
"We just didn't play well," Oertner said. "We came into the game shooting 71 percent from the line and at halftime we were shooting 1-for-11."
The Bulldogs missed all eight second quarter free throws and hit just 8-of-24 for the game.
On top of that, their plan to stop Kevin Oxley failed miserably. The senior led all scorers (21 points) and hit a clutch three from well beyond the arc to cut the Bulldog lead to 50-49 with 14.5 seconds remaing.
"He made some bombs," Oertner said of Oxley. "He was moving and shooting at the same time and we have to give him credit for that."
The Bulldog resurgence in the second half revolved around their tightening defense. Seremula forced Oxley to turn the ball over at key times to keep Northwestern off balance while holding the Tigers to just four points in the third quarter.
"We did get a little rattled offensively because their pressure picked up some," Dugan said. "We got good shots, but we didn't just put the ball in the basket at critical times."
Thrilled with his team's performance and effort, Dugan reflected on his team's progress since the early season trouncing by these same Bulldogs.
"Obviously it is tough," Dugan said. "We've come a long way. They handed it to us over at our place early in the season. (Tonight) we came up one possession short."
Northern Lehigh's Jordan Waylen has struggled from the field and at the charity stripe. He and Nick Pappas (13 points) combined for just two-of-14 from the line.
"Hopefully we'll turn it around in the next few games and play at our top form for the playoffs," Oertner said.
The Bulldogs also won the JV game, 49-21.
Lerner 4-0-2-8, Nagle 2-0-0-5, Oxley 8-1-1-21, German 2-2-2-6, Betz 2-2-2-6, Roth 0-0-0-0, Koenig 1-0-0-2. Totals 19-5-7-48.
Seremula 4-0-0-8, Hahn 2-2-2-6, Waylen 4-1-7-11, Biegley 4-3-6-11, Pappas 6-1-7-13, Glose 0-1-2-1. Totals 20-8-24-50.
Northwestern 15 18 4 11 - 48
Northern Lehigh 16 9 9 16 - 50
3-Pointers: NW - Oxley 4, Nagle 1; NL-Waylen 2