Spring Grove traveled to Northeastern for a YAIAA Division I showdown on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017. Jim Seip, GameTimePA.com
Strength in numbers. Northeastern had it Tuesday, while Spring Grove is searching for such continuity.
The end result was predictable: a 75-59 Bobcats’ win in front of a sold-out crowd at Northeastern High School.
Northeastern continues its torrid season — a 10-0 start to the year and a first-place standing in YAIAA Division I with a 5-0 mark.
The Rockets, the defending YAIAA champions, are now 5-3 on the season and 3-2 in YAIAA Division I. They remain tied for second place in division, however, after Dallastown lost a shocker at home Tuesday, 59-58 to 2-8 South Western. The Rockets and Wildcats square off Friday.
"We try to just focus on one day at a time. But I think if we can continue playing how we're playing and just play together, I think we have a shot at doing great things," Northeastern senior forward Brandon Coleman said.
When asked specifically what great things entailed, Coleman said: "County championship, making a run at a district championship and just trying to go as far as we can."
Tuesday's meeting between the Bobcats and Rockets underscored the discrepancy between each team.
While Coleman said Northeastern plays about six or seven in its regular rotation, that core was on display with four Bobcats scoring in double figures. Coleman led the charge, scoring 22 points without a Spring Grove player in sight who could adequately guard him one on one.
Antonio Rizzuto scored 18, Fred Mulbah scored 15 and Austin Greene added 12. Nate Wilson also showed ability as a 6-foot-2 freshman who can shoot the ball from long range. He scored just five points, yet is a player that must be accounted for by the opposition.
"Our offense is based off of spreading the ball," Coleman said. "We've got Austin and Fred up top, and they just attack. And then just kick it out to any of those three players between me, Nate and Antonio. Our offense is built off of scoring the ball and getting the man open shots."
Said Rockets head coach James Brooks: "They have enough people to keep going. And the wave comes at you from a different person."
Spring Grove, meanwhile, relied on the otherworldly talent of senior point guard Eli Brooks, yet received little in the form of a supporting cast.
Brooks is going to a high-end college basketball program next year, the University of Michigan, and showed why Tuesday. He led the Rockets with 30 points including a particularly impressive third quarter that saw him score 15 while knocking down three 3-pointers.
Austin Painter added 16 for Spring Grove but the remaining individual scoring lines read as the following: seven, four and two.
"It's a process," James Brooks said. "Last year's group, it took them a while to get to that point where they started to click and realized there's a certain way we have to play and we're going to all get fed by the best player in the league."
It was a highly entertaining atmosphere throughout. Northeastern announced a sellout crowd prior to the contest and each student section was roaring and ready to go.
An up-and-down first quarter saw both teams evenly matched, and Northeastern took a 20-19 lead after the opening eight minutes.
The Bobcats went on a run highlighted by a Mulbah start-and-stop driving layin and a Rizzuto steal and dunk on the other end, taking a 34-25 lead at intermission.
Eli Brooks came out gunning in the third quarter, however. Northeastern coach Jon Eyster said the Rockets made halftime adjustments that allowed Brooks to move more off the ball, come off screens, and catch for open looks outside.
Eli Brooks said he knew coming into the contest he would be called upon to carry a heavy load against a strong Bobcats squad.
"We did talk about that, me and my dad at the dinner table last night, eating steak and fries," Eli Brooks said. "I didn't have that many shot attempts the past four games. I think I was only at, like, 13. They wanted me to get it up to at least 20 in order to win. That was definitely a big factor."
The Rockets cut the deficit to 43-42 on a Brooks bucket midway through the third, but Northeastern closed the quarter on an 8-0 run to take a 51-42 lead into the final frame. Coleman scored all the points in the spurt, hitting a 3-pointer, finishing a three-point play and knocking down two free throws.
"Coleman did an excellent job for them tonight," James Brooks said.
The Rockets have Middletown on Wednesday before facing Dallastown Friday in a toss up for second place in YAIAA Division I. Northeastern will look to further solidify its spot in the league's hierarchy with a road game against William Penn.