LONDON, Ohio -- North Union (11-0) is the real deal.
While the Wildcats have been rolling early on this season and have the caught the eyes of many, they haven't played an extremely tough schedule thus far. However, they picked up the statement win they needed tonight, making the 40 mile trip southwest and taking down London (8-5) on the very last possession in a thrilling 39-38 victory.
While London jumped out to a quick 5-3 lead following a three from junior Ethan Minner and a couple of solid plays on both ends from Trey Woodyard, North Union settled in and responded with a 6-0 run.
After a few tough post scores from sophomore Zach Vernon, they forced a London timeout as they led 9-5 with 2:23 left in the first and rode this to a 12-10 lead at the end of the frame.
Woodyard answered by opening up the second with a triple to reclaim a 13-12 lead and later increased it to 17-15 after dropping a dime to senior Eli North for an easy layup.
While Woodyard didn't have his hottest night from the field, he did a really good job of getting his teammates involved throughout the contest and showed off some elite vision.
North Union answered with five unanswered points to build a 20-17 lead late in the quarter, but London senior Isaiah Hatem knocked down a triple to tie it with 47 seconds left in the frame before two technical free throws from Preston Crabtree gave North Union a 22-20 advantage at the break.
The Wildcats increased this lead to 28-23 with 3:29 left in the third following a big block from Vernon that led to a transition finish from freshman Owen Davis, but a sloppy stretch towards the end of the frame allowed London to cut the deficit to 33-31 heading into the fourth.
Following a big and-one from London junior Jainaz Cameron early on in the fourth, Woodyard dropped off another dime to Minner for an easy finish and then came up with a huge block to ignite the crowd and push their lead to 36-33 with 5:31 to go.
After a tough finish inside from Vernon cut the lead down to 38-37 with 1:30 to go, North Union was forced to foul and sent Cameron to the line for a one-and-one.
After he missed the front end, North Union grabbed the rebound and came down seeking a good look with less than 60 seconds to play.
They got exactly that as senior Connor Terrill attacked going right, executed a beautiful head fake and found fellow senior Harley Day cutting to the rim where he showed off great body control and finished it off to claim a 39-38 lead and force a London timeout with 12 seconds to go.
Vernon then came up huge on the last possession, playing some extremely disciplined defense on the interior and using his length to block Cameron at the rim just before the buzzer to seal the win.
Playing some extremely unselfish and disciplined basketball, North Union is rolling at 11-0 and has all of the confidence in the world at the moment. They'll be back in action on Friday when they host Urbana.
After dropping their second straight game, London has some work to do as the Red Raiders just simply don't seem to be clicking on offense and are having trouble taking care of the ball. They will travel to Kenton Ridge on Friday for a league contest.
Zach Vernon (6'5 PF / North Union / 2022): Vernon was by far the top breakout performer in Tuesday's CBC showdown. The 6-foot-5 post blew us away with his IQ, patience and command of the post, as he was undoubtedly North Union's most important player in a tough road win. Vernon is a wide bodied post with great touch, as he showed off his great hands and strong finishing ability around the rim. The sophomore has an array of post moves inside, as he hit a fadeaway baseline jumper, had a strong left shoulder hook score and caught an entry pass in traffic and showed off great touch just a few feet away from the basket. With North Union facing a three-point deficit late, Vernon delivered with an inside score, where he sensed a double team coming along the baseline and spun away from the defense, laying the ball in the rim right in front of the basket and trimming the London lead to a single point. With North Union taking the lead moments later, Vernon delivered majorly on the defensive end, rotating on helpside defense and getting off his man to stuff Jainaz Cameron at the rim and lead North Union to its 11th-straight win. Vernon is a smart passer, has a great feel and plays with a toughness and confidence that is hard to find with most young big men. The sophomore commanded the glass, as he rebounded at a high level in his area and did a great job of clearing out space on both ends. One of the absolute best sophomore posts that we've seen this year, Vernon is a young big to keep an eye on in the area as he's a major reason why the Wildcats are still unbeaten.
Trey Woodyard (6'6 WG / London / 2021): While Woodyard didn't have his best night shooting the ball tonight, the junior affected the game on both ends of the floor and showed off his versatile skillset. The 6-foot-6 wing is an elite passer and an advanced ball handler as he dropped off some really high level dimes both attacking off of the dribble and finding teammates in the open floor. He also affected the game on the defensive end with his length by coming up with with two huge blocks, providing a presence on the glass and frustrating North Union's ball handlers both on the perimeter and in trapping situations. Offensively, he finished a tough euro step lay in, hit a three off the catch, and finished a tough bucket on the interior. Even though he wasn't finding a rhythm with his jump shot, we would still like to see Woodyard be more aggressive as he has been playing very passive in our last few viewings and that can very well make the difference in a game like this one. Duquesne was in to check out the junior tonight as he gained a lot of recruiting interest over the summer and fall that has led to more college coaches showing up to London recently than the Red Raiders have seen in decades.
Preston Crabtree (6'3 WG / North Union / 2021): In a primetime matchup with Woodyard, Crabtree more than held his own in our first viewing of him. The 6-foot-3 guard is the go-to scorer for the Wildcats and he did not disappoint, scoring it in a variety of ways and showing off his feathery shooting touch. Crabtree knocked down two catch and shoot triples, had a strong mid-range And-1 score in the first half and showed his ability off the bounce when he went baseline and slipped through two defenders to finish off glass. While London did a good job of limiting him in the second half by face guarding him, Crabtree made key plays in the waning moments of the game, helping North Union maintain its crisp ball movement. Putting up big scoring numbers for a Wildcats team that will be a huge threat in the CBC and Division III, Crabtree is a name to remember in the 2021 class.
Trevyn Feasel (5'11 G / North Union / 2021): Coming off the bench and providing North Union with huge minutes, Feasel made winning plays all night for the Wildcats. The 5-foot-11 guard is a tough customer that kept the ball moving for North Union, delivering a handful of impressive passes. The junior is a strong dribble driver who set his teammates up for open opportunities all night. On a North Union team that is playing with a big chip on its shoulder, Feasel is a guy that contributes greatly to that mentality, as he plays with a certain attitude and swagger that is contagious.