Jon Eyster called Michael Coleman a calming force.
Of the seven Northeastern players who took the court Wednesday during the seventh-seeded Bobcats' 56-49 win against Carlisle, none had Coleman's tournament experience.
As tension built in their District 3 Class AAAA first-round game at Northeastern High School, Eyster told his 6-foot-4 senior guard, "You're going to have to slow us down," he said afterwards.
Coleman won a district title at the single-A level with New Hope Academy. Around the same time, a young Northeastern squad had its season end in convincing fashion to Bishop McDevitt.
So the coach leaned on him.
Coleman finished with just two points, both coming from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, but he handled the basketball to initiate half-court sets.
"A lot of people didn't notice, but you have to have a guy that's not trying to make every play," Eyster said.
At times, that's what Donovian Maxfield was for.
Eyster admitted he was ready to "yank" him off the floor after Maxfield followed a costly turnover by hoisting a deep 3-pointer midway through the third quarter.
Carlisle's Zion Patterson stole the ball from Maxfield near the half-court line before giving the 10th-ranked Thundering Herd (16-7) their first lead. Maxfield's ensuing 3 went in, however.
So did his next one.
"We feed off energy," Maxfield said. "If teammates tell me to take the open shot, I take the open shot."
That's where having Coleman helps.
Maxfield's back-to-back 3s quickly erased the Bobcats' first deficit and prevented a total shift in momentum. Maxfield finished with 12 points, all on four deep shots.
"He was just drilling it from everywhere," Carlisle coach Andre Anderson said. "We knew he could shoot it. We were just a little late reacting to him."
Of Northeastern's five starters, Maxfield is the only one under 6-foot.
The Bobcats still had four others with size and shooting ability, which concerned Anderson entering this meeting.
"We knew four of the five guys could really stroke it from outside," he said. "They showed that in the first half."
Strategically, Anderson assigned top defender Deonte Ramsey on the Bobcats' Kobi Nwandu. As Northeastern's leading scorer, Nwandu still provided a team-best 16 points and two of the Bobcats' seven 3s.
The effort helped Northeastern break off a 14-2 opening run before Carlisle rallied on its own 3-point shooting from Jake Milligan. In his last game for the Herd, Milligan drained four 3s — all in the second quarter — to cut the difference to 28-23 at halftime.
Carlisle ultimately rallied on the play of 6-foot junior Jordan Purcell, who supplied a game-high 17 points and three critical blocks as the difference tightened on the scoreboard.
This team from the Mid-Penn Commonwealth Division was unlike any previous Bobcats opponents, Eyster said. It used no player taller than 6-foot but had something else.
"Their speed was really hard for us," Northeastern sophomore DeAireus Brown said.
To counter, Eyster went to a zone — usually of the 3-2 variety — to slow the Herd. It worked, keeping standout sophomore guard Deshawn Millington to just six points.
Brown and senior Derrick Hoffman benefitted, leading Northeastern's interior game. Defensively, they combined for 16 rebounds and each had a block. Offensively, their consecutive baskets in the paint gave Northeastern the lead for good in the final three minutes.
"It says a lot about our heart," Brown said. "We've been battling in practice every day. When we lost to Central (York), that was really hard on us, and we had to pull it out."
The Bobcats followed that loss without panic during their practices, Eyster said.
Their next few sessions need to be equally smooth with second-seeded Cedar Cliff (23-2) looming in the quarterfinals Saturday morning at Hershey's Giant Center. The Colts dispatched Central Dauphin East, 56-44.
Contact Matt Goul at 771-2045.
Ramsey 2 1-2 7, Patterson 1 1-1 3, Millington 2 2-2 6, Jake Milligan 5 0-0 14, Jordan Purcell 5 6-9 17, Greene 0 0-0 0, Moore 1 0-0 2.
Totals — 16 10-14 49.
Coleman 0 2-2 2, Kobi Nwandu 7 0-0 16, Donovian Maxfield 4 0-1 12, Brown 3 3-6 9, Derrick Hoffman 4 4-8 12, Reynolds 1 0-2 2, Zirkle 1 0-0 3.
Totals — 20 9-19 56.
3-point goals — C 7 (Milligan 4, Ramsey 2, Purcell), Ne 7 (Maxfield 4, Nwandu 2, Zirkle).