In a battle for second place in the PAC-6 Conference behind East Chapel Hill, Northern Durham’s boys basketball team outlasted Cardinal Gibbons 59-55 in a defensive struggle marked by plenty of free throws.
Normally that would bode well for the Crusaders, as they’ve made their bread and butter this season by getting to the line early and often with their talented post players spearheaded by junior Ody Oguama. But it was the Knights who hit their free throws down the stretch, led by junior guard Jalen Johnson who hit 4-4 from the line in the game’s final minute.
“We had a lot of composure, and pulled it out,” Northern coach Ronnie Russell said. “It’s one of the best games we’ve played overall.”
The two teams battled to a 23-23 standstill at the half, each with their weapon of choice. Northern featured their stellar guards, who stressed the Crusaders defense with three-pointers followed by deep drives into the lane. Cardinal Gibbons was also able to use its strengths. Oguama had two monstrous dunks in the first quarter to keep his team close and the Crusaders spent plenty of time at the free throw line in the second frame, shooting 9-13.
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Though Cardinal Gibbons battled back, it never regained the lead. Senior Alex Kuzy tossed a failed alley-oop attempt to Oguama, who missed both ensuing free throws trailing by one with just over two minutes left.
The Crusaders missed another pair of free throws 30 seconds later while trailing by three and finished 3-8 from the line in the fourth quarter.
“We shot 72 percent as a team, and missed 12 free throws,” Cardinal Gibbons coach Jim Ryan said. “You can’t win games with those numbers. I thought that was the major turning point of the game.”
With the season winding down, this gives what Russell calls a younger Northern team a sizable shot of confidence and a leg up on the rest of the conference.
Before the boys game, the Cardinal Gibbons girls team romped easily against Northern by a score of 50-21. Madi Reid was the leading scorer for the Crusaders with 15 points.