Just when Northern Lehigh needed him the most, Jordan Waylen was there to save the game.
Then again, perhaps 'steal the game' would be a better choice of words.
With Jim Thorpe closing the cap on the Bulldogs' lead midway through the fourth quarter, Waylen stepped up and showed why he is an early-season favorite for Player of the Year. The senior made two steals and converted on three lay-ups in the last few minutes of the 29th annual Slatington Rotary Basketball Tournament championship game and helped his Bulldogs to a 56-40 victory.
"I think being in really good shape and working hard on defense in practice is what propelled us to a 16-point win," said the MVP of the tournament. "It was close the whole game. We weren't tired in the fourth quarter. We just kept going right at them.
"I just wanted to be a team player like every night I come out to play. I think everybody is doing a good job of dishing the ball. I was set up for some shots and some easy lay-ups and it all just worked out in the end."
Waylen started out the night on fire, as he scored Northern Lehigh's first five points and accounted for 18 of the team's 25 first-half points. He cooled off a little bit in the third (three points) and missed two free throws early in the fourth, but exploded for ten points down the stretch and finished with a game-high 31.
"Jordan is a great kid," said Northern Lehigh head coach Jeff Miller. "He works hard and I think he has elevated his game as the season has progressed. The sky is the limit for Jordan.
"I think a year or two ago Jordan was known mainly as a shooter. His game has developed now to where he can penetrate and distribute. He is just a good all-around ball player."
The game was back-and-forth as the night unfolded. Jim Thorpe managed to take a 12-10 lead, but watched as Northern Lehigh went on a 7-0 run to close the opening quarter. The Olympians hit two three-pointers in the quarter. However, both were matched by two triples from Waylen.
The Olympians hung tough in the second and third quarters, but were unable to make up any ground. John Otto did his best to keep his team in the game by scoring seven of his team-high 12 points in the middle to frames.
Jim Thorpe was never able to put a run together. Northern Lehigh pressed and dropped back into a 3-2 zone and held the Olympians to 12 or less points in every quarter.
"Their size neutralized us," said Jim Thorpe head coach Brian Carroll. "They made it difficult to look inside and move the ball around. It wasn't just their height, but their arm-span.
"I thought we had the right game-plan for about 28 minutes. Then, for whatever reason, we rushed shots. You have to give Northern Lehigh credit. They caused some turnovers and were able to leak out for lay-ups."
Northern Lehigh took over in the fourth and out-scored Jim Thorpe 21-11 in the final eight minutes. Sophomore forward Caleb Johnson helped Waylen in the final frame by chipping in six of his 11 points. He was the only other Bulldog in double-figures.
The Bulldogs move to 5-1 on the young season. They will have a week off before they face off with Palmerton next Tuesday.
"I think we are where we thought we would be," said Miller. "After opening the year with a tough Bangor team, the kids responded very well in the next practice. We have worked hard since then and I think we will continue to improve.
"When you look at us, we are a young team with not a lot of varsity experience. So, games like this are great for our young people. It is going to help down the road and we are excited to be where we are at."
Brown 1-2-3-4, Ciavarella 1-0-0-2, Clark 3-0-0-6, DiBonifazio 2-2-2-6, Johnson 4-0-2-10, Moore 0-0-0-0, Otto 4-2-5-12, Prontnicki 0-0-0-0, Lynch 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 15-6-12-40.
George 0-0-0-0, Dibilio 1-0-0-3, Pristash 0-0-0-0, Glose 3-1-2-7, Waylen 13-3-7-31, Malaska 0-0-0-0, Rankin 1-0-0-2, Middaugh 0-0-0-0, Johnson 5-1-2-11, Pierce 1-0-0-2. TOTALS: 24-5-11-56.
Jim Thorpe 12 11 6 11 - 40
No. Lehigh 17 8 10 21 - 56
Three-Pointers: JT - Johnson 2, Otto 2; NL - Waylen 2, Dibilio 1.