Jeff Miller, Lucas Pierce and the entire Northern Lehigh boys basketball team had their coming out party on Friday night.
Miller picked up the first victory of his head coaching career, Pierce turned in a monster all-around performance, and the Bulldogs looked nothing like the team that was routed by Bangor in their season opener earlier this week.
Jumping out to a double-digit first-quarter lead, Northern Lehigh never trailed as it breezed to a 70-41 victory over Northwestern.
"It feels really nice to get that first win," said Miller. "Hopefully it's the first of many."
If the Bulldogs play like they did last night, it almost certainly will be.
"We talked to the kids about playing with confidence," said Miller. "We tried to force the issue early with our press and create some easy transition baskets to help our kids relax."
The Bulldogs' strategy worked to perfection as their fullcourt press forced nine first quarter turnovers. They took advantage of that to jump out to an 11-2 lead after just two minutes of play and were up 22-13 after one quarter.
"We have a lot of young kids and a lot of inexperienced kids playing for us and I thought the other night at Bangor we had that deer in the highlights look," said Miller about his team's 47-point loss. "It was good to play at home tonight with a nice crowd behind us. We were definitely a lot more relaxed at the start of the game and then our confidence grew and grew as good things started to happen for us."
The Bulldogs lead grew to as many as 14 points in the second quarter thanks to a couple of inside baskets by Pierce and a three-pointer by Jordan Waylen. But Andrew Rivera and Payton Backman led a Northwestern spurt that cut the margin to 31-23 late in the half.
That would be as close as the Tigers would get, however, as Carter Rankin drained his third and fourth three-pointers of the half and Tyler Dibilio added another trey to push the lead to 40-25 at halftime.
"They gave us problems with their pressure early in the game," said Northwestern coach BJ Dugan. "But we played hard in the second quarter and did a nice job of battling back.
"I thought the key to the game was the last couple minutes of the half. We had gotten back into the game and then they hit a couple of long threes and then bank in another one right before the buzzer and all of a sudden its a 15-point game."
Pierce, who had 10 first half points, continued to take it to the Tigers in the second half, reeling off eight straight points during a three-minute stretch of the third quarter as the Bulldogs blew the game open.
"The sky is the limit for Lucas," said Miller. "He's only a sophomore so right now he still needs to gain confidence.
"But he has all the tools. He can give us a physical presence underneath the basket and he also has a really nice shooting touch for someone who is 6-6. You could see him get more and more comfortable as the game went on."
Pierce finished with 22 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots to lead the Bulldogs (1-1, 1-1). Rankin went 5-for-7 from three-point range and finished with 15 points while Josh Malaska added 11 points.
Rivera led Northwestern (1-3, 0-2) with 12 points.
L. Rivera 0-0-0-0, Snyder 1-1-5-3, A. Rivera 3-6-8-12, Roth 2-0-0-4, Bachman 3-0-0-7, Ettl 0-0-0-0, Maher 1-0-0-2, Dorney 0-0-0-0, M. Rivera 2-0-0-6, Williams 0-0-0-0, Storm 2-1-2-5, Cunningham 1-0-1-2, Richardson 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 15-8-16-41.
George 1-0-0-3, Dibilio 1-0-0-3, Pristash 0-0-0-0, Glose 3-0-0-6, Waylen 2-0-0-5, Malaska 5-0-1-11, Rankin 5-0-0-15, Hoffman 0-0-0-0, Middaugh 0-1-2-1, Landsberger 0-2-2-2, Johnson 1-0-3-2, Pierce 9-4-5-22. TOTALS: 27-7-13-70.
Northwestern 13 12 6 10 41
No. Lehigh 22 18 17 13 70
Three-pointers: NW - M. Rivera 2, Bachman 1. NL - Rankin 5, George 1, Dibilio 1, Waylen 1, Malaska 1.