Northeastern holds off Northwestern to advance

Northeastern’s Casey Hayes said he and his fellow seniors sensed no deja vu Saturday as Northwestern tried frantically to come back.

“We were just focused on winning,” he said. “We don’t care what they did in the past. It’s all about tonight.”

In December, Northwestern used full-court pressure to rally from seven down in the fourth quarter to beat the Jets in overtime. This time, however, the Jets navigated the pressure just enough.

“I think for the most part we stayed calm,” Hayes said. “Our point guard [Josh Lenk] does a great job handling the pressure.”

The 13th-seeded Jets saw their lead cut to one three times in the fourth quarter, but they made free throws when it counted and hung on for a 54-49 victory over No. 11 Northwestern in a first-round Division III sectional game at Northmont High School.

It was the first tournament win for the Jets’ seniors, who combined to make 7-of-11 3-pointers. They move on to a second-round game at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Northmont against No. 14 Miami East, which upset Stivers 54-52 in overtime Saturday.

“It’s a real good feeling in the locker room,” said Hayes, who scored a game-high 18 points. “We’re ready to work on Monday.”

Second-year coach Nathan Warner is ready for more, too.

“I’m excited to continue scouting, to continue game-planning,” he said.

Warner said the Jets (13-8) have secured back-to-back double-digit victory seasons for the first time since 1968. Last year’s total was the first time since 2006.

“I love these boys very much,” Warner said. “They come every day, they do what we ask, they don’t question us. They just work hard.”

Northwestern (15-8) won the CBC Mad River title and had high tournament hopes.

“Our goal was to try and win a sectional title this year,” Warriors coach Gerald Embry said. “I wanted to do that for our seniors this year, and we just fell short. We battled back. I’m proud of the kids for that, but we didn’t get it done.”

The Jets closed the first half with a 10-4 run for a 25-21 lead and opened the second half with a 7-0 run to lead 32-21 lead.

“First half we just didn’t guard,” Embry said. “We were fouling out of the press instead of keeping guys in front and getting good traps. And that came back to bite us.”

The rest of the game was Northwestern pressing and fighting to get the lead. Ryan Cleland led the Warriors with 15 points and keyed the defense with steals that fueled the comeback. But they never got the lead.

Aaron Phillips, who scored 11 points, sparked the Jets with 3-pointers at the 6:31 and 3:43 marks when the Warriors had cut the lead to one. After the Warriors got the lead down to 49-48, Lenk made four straight free throws to ice it.

“Those kids never quit either,” Warner said. “You know that a Coach Embry team is not going to quit.”

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