Right before Mike Duffy and the rest of the South Western High starting five took to the court in Wednesday night's contest against Northeastern, he reminded them that they owed the Bobcats one.
"We started off 15-0 last year and they gave us our first loss of the season," Duffy recalled. "We struggled on and off after that for the rest of the season. We wanted to pay them back."
Thanks in large part to a superb effort at the free throw line, the Mustangs pulled off a 50-45 victory.
Duffy, who finished with a game-high 24 points, led the way by going 17-for-19 from the free throw line.
"(Northeastern) was pushing up so much defensively that they kind of took away our outside shooting, so we were forced to drive the lane," Duffy said. "Fortunately, we made the free throws."
"I think our average at the line is improving throughout the season," head coach Nate Brodbeck added. "I thought we did a great job of getting to the line. Our goal is to get over 20 free throws. We did that well, and I thought Duffy did a good job of penetrating and getting fouled."
The Mustangs (10-5, 7-2 YAIAA I) went to the line 33 times and drained 26.
Northeastern jumped out to a 10-1 lead in the first quarter before South Western stormed back, going on a 6-0 run to close the quarter down 10-7.
South Western played much of the first quarter without Duffy, who was being checked out by the training staff for a possible concussion after getting kicked in the head while diving for a loose ball.
After getting cleared to return, Duffy's impact at the start of the second quarter was felt immediately. On the first possession, he intercepted a pass and took it the length of the court before getting fouled. He drained both free throws to pull the Mustangs within one. The teams would battle back and forth before Khalid Nwandu's jumper as time expired in the half sent the teams into the locker room at a 23-23 stalemate.
The Bobcats' athleticism was dominant on the offensive end in the first quarter-and-a-half until the Mustangs settled into a 2-3 zone.
"(Khalid) Nwandu is nice," Brodbeck said. "Our game plan was to try and limit his touches. We slowed it down and went to the 2-3 zone. It worked. (Northeastern) did a nice job. They got some buckets I didn't like. Down the stretch, we put Scott Hess on him and I think he did a very nice job."
For much of the third quarter, the teams traded leads. Northeastern jumped out to a 36-31 lead heading into the last minute of the quarter before the Mustangs cut the lead to 36-34 on Spencer McKercher's basket and Austin Cook's free throw.
The turning point came in the fourth quarter when the Mustangs went 12-for-16 from the line as opposed to Northeastern, which went 3-for-7 from the line. Duffy accounted for 12 of South Western's 16 points in the quarter, going 9-for 10 from the line.
"This was definitely a big win for us," Duffy said. "It helps to build our confidence. As one of the senior leaders, I need to be able to hit those free throws at the end."
Nwandu finished with a team-high 15 points for Northeastern.
Duffy's 24 points pulls him within 32 of 1,000 for his career, according to South Western records.
"I want it to happen, but I cannot think about it," Duffy said. "I need to do whatever my team needs me to in order to win and not worry about that. But I will definitely enjoy it when it comes."
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Khalid Nwandu 7 1-3 15, Riley 4 0-1 8, Eyster 2 1-1 7, Coleman 2 0-0 5, Kobi Nwandu 2 1-2 5, Hoffman 1 3-4 5, Marshall 0 0-0 0, Bajrami 0 0-0 0 Totals18 6-11 45.
SOUTH WESTERN (50)
Mike Duffy 3 17-19 24, Parker Bean 3 4-6 10, McKercher 2 3-4 7, Geiman 1 0-0 3, Cook 1 1-2 3, Hess 1 1-2 3, Smith 0 0-0 0, Robinson 0 0-0 0. Totals11 26-33 50.
Northestern 10 13 13 9 -- 45
South Western 7 16 11 16 -- 50
3-point goals -- Northeastern 3 (Eyster 2, Coleman); South Western 2 (Duffy. Geiman).
JV score -- Northeastern, 47-29.