Cougars good enough early to top NK

"The tortoise doesn’t always win.Friday night (Jan. 7) at Central Kitsap High School, the hare held on to win by a whisker’s width. The host Cougars, after hopping away to leads as large as 21 points, saw that lead shrink to one point before holding off North Kitsap for a crucial 77-75 Olympic League victory.“I can’t take any more of these,” said first-year CK coach Tim Dower, whose team led 53-32 with 12 minutes, 49 seconds remaining to play before the Vikings began a patient, point-by-point comeback that was nearly enough.Nearly.“I told our kids this was a must-win if we wanted to stay in the playoff race,” Dower said. “Maybe I put more pressure on than I should’ve. We nearly folded (in the second half), but we held on.”The Cougars (2-3 in league, 3-5 overall prior to playing at Bainbridge last night) were nearly perfect in the first half behind forward Quinton Smith. The 6-foot-3 senior scored 24 of his game-high 28 points as CK built a bulging lead.As strong a comeback as his team mounted later, that was where North Kitsap coach Bob Fronk felt his team caused its own downfall. In this case, he said, the tortoise just fell too far behind.“We told our kids it was a critical game, that it would be a fun game, a rivalry game,” Fronk said. “I was disappointed and upset that we weren’t ready to play better from the get-go.“They blew us out early, and then they barely held on,” Fronk added. “It was heck of an effort from our kids, but we had too far to come back. We’ve got to learn from this that we have to come out hard from the opening whistle. We’re not good enough that we can just turn it on and off when we feel like it.”That the game didn’t end up being the CK laugher it probably should’ve been had equal parts to do with North warming up to the game and Central going cold. When the Cougs’ perimeter shooting went bye-bye, the Vikings were able to sag back and choke off the inside game, as well.At the other end, North abandoned its own outside game.“We just told the kids they’d have to take it to the hole,” Fronk said. “We had no perimeter attack at all, and we’d been way too perimeter oriented.”With Marc McNall slashing into the lane for buckets and free throws and Ty Hildebrand striking with hooks and short jumpers, North started to climb out of its hole. Down 66-43 to start the fourth quarter, the Viks ran off a 10-2 spurt against the Cougars, who suddenly couldn’t do anything right.When Hildebrand hit an 8-footer from the lane, it was 69-66, and nearly three and a half minutes still remained. Three-point shots by Clary Carlsen and Thomas Jordan made things even closer, the latter pulling North within 76-75 with 1:05 to play. Both teams missed offensive opportunities before Carlsen was fouled. He missed both his free throws and CK’s Eric Roy grabbed the rebound with 8.9 seconds to play. He made the first of his two shots — his only point of the game — and the Vikings couldn’t set up a makeable shot in the time that remained.“I think we caught them by surprise a little in the first half,” said Dower. “We executed our offense and defense really well, and we had a lot of energy.”Of the near-collapse in the second half, he shrugged and added, “We really let down there for about 12 minutes.”Dower complimented some of the adjustments the Vikings made in the second half, including using sturdy senior Carlsen to defend Smith.“He got out on Quinton and bodied up on him,” Dower said of Carlsen.“We felt like we could keep constant pressure on them, and we’d start to see some missed shots and turnovers,” said Fronk.The Cougars bent and bent, but didn't break. The second half tested their poise as much as anything else — evidence the three technical fouls they were dinged for, which gave North six extra free throws.Unfortunately for the Vikings, those technicals were the only freebies they shot with any consistency. Outside of McNall, who was 14 for 16 from the line (including 5 for 6 on the T’s), North was 13 for 33, a frigid 39 percent from the stripe.“We showed a lot of poise down the stretch,” said Dower. “A lot of teams would’ve broken.”Fronk agreed, but said that one more basket by his team might’ve been enough to take the Cougs to that breaking point.“It would’ve been interesting if we could’ve taken a lead by a point or two,” Fronk said. “But they found ways not to let that happen.”"

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