WOODBURY — A glittering crown erased the bruises in Northwestern’s 47-36 boys basketball win at Nonnewaug Tuesday afternoon in a knockdown battle for the Berkshire League regular-season championship.
Both teams played the kind of fast-paced in-your-face pressing man-to-man defense almost guaranteed to make a game ugly for all but the most ardent fans of defense.
Steals, sometimes wrenched out of opposing player’s hands; missed layups; forced shots; attempted 3s from NBA range; and referee whistles screeching through a coronavirus-mandated sparse crowd were features of a game with the highest BL stakes in a shortened regular season.
With just 12 games to play in the nine-team league, the BL mandated the winner of the first eight, in which every team played every other team, as the regular-season champion.
Nonnewaug, coming in with a 4-1 record, had the final chance to stop the 7-0 Highlanders from their goal.
“They did what they had to do,” Northwestern coach Doug Sebach said.
That meant individual offensive efforts on both sides when every pass was a high-risk gamble often resulting in turnovers.
Nonnewaug’s big guard, Jon Khazzaka, was up to the task with eight of the Chiefs’ points in a 10-4 first-quarter Nonnewaug lead.
“He’s a great player,” said 6-foot-5 Northwestern forward Curt Blische, joining his defense under the basket in the effort to stop Khazzaka’s spinning, sometimes-amazing shots.
Fred Camp, a big Northwestern guard, came off the bench in the second quarter with a mission of his own, scoring nine of his team’s 15 points for a 19-19 tie, matching another nine points from Khazzaka, who finished with a game-high 24.
“You have to take your moment, but then it’s time to step back,” said Camp, a sophomore with the wisdom of a post-graduate, finishing with a team-high 19 points. “We were all hollering on the bench about teamwork.”
Much of the teamwork came defensively in the third quarter when Blische spent most of the period towering over a tiring Khazzaka, limiting him to three points in a 27-27 tie.
In the final period, Northwestern teamwork clicked on offense while Nonnewaug ran out of options.
Starting from a 30-27 deficit after the first minute, Blische (10 points), held scoreless in the first three periods, crashed the boards for a putback, then he and guard Clay Maloney (10 points) took in great passes for back-to-back layups.
Khazzaka scored on another drive, but Camp and Maloney combined for a 5-0 run. When Blische hit a three-footer with two minutes left, 41-34, it all went down to the foul line.
Blische poured in a calm 4-for-4. Camp took a final Nonnewaug rebound the length of the floor for a jam.
The Highlanders had their moment; the crown was firmly in place.