Alright LLhoops.com readers, time for a little pop quiz. For this one we will need your complete and total honesty. Ready? Here we go. Please raise your hand if you would have predicted that on the eve of the last section game before Christmas the Northern Lebanon Vikings Boys Basketball team would be undefeated in Section play, let alone being a double overtime decision away from a totally unblemished record. All finished? Well, chances are that unless you are firmly entrenched in the Vikings camp or were being 100% honest, that hand was not raised. Yet here they are.
Preseason prognostications aside, there is one rock-solid lesson that we have learned up to this point this season. And that is that the actual games on the court are what separates the pretenders from the contenders. Take notes because it’s a seminar that the Northern Lebanon Vikings are illuminating for everyone.
On Wednesday night, the hot-starting Vikes played host a Columbia squad fresh off an impressive win of their own over another upstart Lebanon County club in Annville-Cleona on Monday evening. A Tide team that by way just so happened to qualify for the state playoffs last year. But this is a different year, a different night, and more importantly, a much different group of Vikings.
Although Northern Lebanon would score the first bucket of the night, the Crimson Tide struck back with a vengeance. Columbia would see Northern Lebanon’s early hoop and retaliate with an 11-0 run to go in front in the blink of an eye. The run was fittingly ignited by Columbia’s star senior point guard Meleik Crenshaw who chipped in the first five to Tide flurry as the Vikes found themselves down 11-2 with 5:24 left in the first quarter, calling a timeout to regroup.
Although an Alex Yeager bucket would finally stop the dry-spell for NL, Columbia’s Matt McCleary was there with the answer as the sophomore’s hoop inside pushed Columbia’s lead back up over the ten point bubble with the Tide now in front 15-4 before a Jaden Neal floater made an even bigger dent on the scoreboard as Columbia suddenly found themselves firmly in the driver’s seat leading 17-6.
Although Northern Lebanon found themselves in a deep hole early, the Vikings continued to stick with it and slowly but surely NL had rejoined the race, climbing back to within ten as the first quarter expired with Columbia in the lead at 17-10.
In the first quarter, Columbia’s offense was operating at a high level getting buckets inside and also from behind the arc as well. However once the second quarter got underway, the Crimson Tide offense was grinded to a halt by a 2-3 zone slapped on by Northern Lebanon. With the Tide being diligent on the offensive end trying to solve the puzzling Northern Lebanon defensive scheme, the Vikings made good on their opportunity to strike as back to back triples from Alex Yeager and Thomas Folmer respectively sliced the Tide lead down to just one point at 17-16, forcing a Columbia timeout with 4:32 left in the half.
You want proof as to just how daunting the Vikings’ zone was? How’s this for dominance? Before a kiss off the glass by talented freshman big man Daivon Edmond, Columbia’s scoring dry spell was finally over. But the damage had already been done as Northern Lebanon had pitched a shutout over Columbia for the first 5:30 minutes of the second frame.
But for all the scoring woes that had besmirched Columbia in the initial few minutes of the quarter, both the Tide and Vikings were about to trade volleys back and forth for the remainder of the half.
The blitzkrieg began with Caleb Light tossing in a triple, good for three of his game-high 26 on the night, to knot things back up at 19 apiece before Matt McCleary had the response with two 3 balls of his own to put Columbia back in front which sent the teams into the intermission with Columbia in possession of the 27-22 halftime lead.
Coming out of the break, Northern Lebanon came out firing on all cylinders. After a Caleb Light triple got the scoring party started and a Henry Hubbard drive to the tin followed suit, the Vikings had rattled off a quick 5-0 blitz to tie the game back up at 27-27 in the early stages of the third quarter.
Although the Tide would counter with a nice dump down feed to Davion Edwards inside to go back in front, Northern Lebanon reclaimed their first lead of the game since 2-0 when Hubbard buried a trey to put the Vikes in front 30-29 with five minutes left to go in the third. From there, Northern Lebanon was able to expand upon their lead as the Vikings began to show their toughness, absolutely owning the offensive glass, including one possession in which Northern Lebanon tracked down at least four offensive boards before settling down and reorganizing into another offensive set. And after a steal and finish on the defensive end by NL’s Caleb Light which made it a 36-31 ballgame in Northern Lebanon’s favor, the Vikes were then able to carry that momentum through the remainder of the third quarter and into the final stanza with NL in front 38-32.
With the game still very much up for grabs, Columbia needed to mount a response in order to quell the Northern Lebanon storm that was brewing. Unfortunately for the visitors, cold-shooting began to plague the Crimson Tide as Columbia was unable to generate any sort of momentum with easy buckets as Northern Lebanon only improved upon their lead.
Despite the fact that the Tide were not able to turn things around by way of their offense, their high-intensity brand of defense helped pave the way for a late charge. And after a pair of Jaden Neal buckets, the last of which came off the defense, the Tide had inched their way back into it as the home-standing Vikings owned the slim five point lead at 42-37 with three minutes left to go.
However as mentioned earlier, this is a different group of Vikings this year. Never was that more apparent than when in the face of danger with Columbia mounting a possible late-game comeback effort, the senior leadership of Alex Yeager prevailed as the 5’11” Northern Lebanon guard attacked the rim and came away with a much-needed bucket to calm the seas with Columbia knocking on the door. But the Tide refused to away and after a pair of Jaden Neal freebies from the charity stripe, Columbia had once again trimmed Northern Lebanon’s lead down to size at 44-41.
But just as Yeager was able to step up in crunch-time with a big bucket from the field, he was equally up to the task from the free throw line as well as a pair of Yeager free throws coupled with a big bucket by big man Cameron Gensler made it a now commanding Viking advantage with the game headed down the home stretch.
Unphased, Columbia kept pushing and pushing and was finally rewarded with a timely trifecta from sophomore marksman Matt McCleary to trim NL’s lead down to five at 49-44 with just 50.2 seconds left to go. After the McCleary 3 ball, Columbia’s fullcourt press continued to pay dividends as a 5 second call whistled against the Vikings on the ensuing inbounds gave the ball back to Columbia with the opportunity to cut even further into the Northern Lebanon lead.
But that would not come to pass as the Tide was turned away leading to another pair of free throws on the other end, these from fellow senior Caleb Light who added to his sensational night, to put Northern Lebanon up 52-46.
With the ball back and one last chance, Columbia need to score. And fast. But it was not to be on this night. After a costly Tide turnover, the early-season legend of the Northern Lebanon Vikings only continued to grow as more late game free throw shooting helped the Vikings close this one out, giving the Vikes a huge leg up in the Section 3 race by virtue of their 56-48 victory over Columbia.
NEXT UP: With their win in the midweek, Northern Lebanon remains unbeaten in Section 3 play with the likes of traditional heavyweights Lancaster Catholic and Lancaster Mennonite. The Vikes will now look to ride their tidal wave of momentum all the way down to Kinzers on Friday night as Northern Lebanon preps for battle with Pequea Valley. After Friday night, Northern Lebanon will return home to Fredericksburg when they host their annual holiday tournament next week. Admittedly, it’s a tourney that gets more and more intriguing with each Viking victory and it could all possibly lead up to a tasty Section 1 vs Section 3 battle in the finals between Penn Manor and Northern Lebanon.
The road does not get any easier for Columbia after Wednesday night. Now sitting at 1-2 in the Section 3 standings, the Tide will go back into battle on Friday night with an excursion into Lancaster city to tangle with longtime rival Lancaster Catholic who also has an unblemished Section 3 mark. Once section play returns after the turn of the calendar year, Columbia will square off with Lebanon Catholic back on The Hill.