PLAIN CITY, Ohio -- When you execute down the stretch, take care of the ball and make the most of your free throw opportunities, it's hard to let a game slip away late.
That was exactly the case for Jonathan Alder on Tuesday night as the Pioneers got solid contributions from their entire rotation in a big 44-40 win over North Union in a Central Buckeye Conference divisional crossover matchup.
Coming to play from the opening tip, North Union scored the first four points of the game and continued to build on this lead, forcing a Jonathan Alder timeout ahead 14-4 with 1:46 left in the first quarter following a big triple from Trevyn Feasel.
After Jonathan Alder trimmed the deficit to 17-9 before the end of the frame, the Pioneers turned it on in the second quarter, catching fire from three and tying the game at 20 with a few minutes left in the half following a big three from Tyler Begin.
Despite North Union scoring the next four points to break the tie, another big triple from Begin just before the buzzer cut the Wildcat lead to just one at the half as they headed into the locker room ahead 24-23.
The game slowed down a bit in the third quarter as both teams struggled to find clean looks early on and we went without a field goal for roughly the first three minutes of the quarter.
After Zach Vernon and Jackson Izzard traded three pointers, North Union reclaimed a two point lead following a score from Preston Crabtree, however a second chance opportunity capitalized on by Taber Headings tied the game at 29 heading into the final eight minutes of play.
After a tough score inside from Vernon, Izzard buried a three from the corner and Jonathan Alder forced a turnover on the ensuing possession to force a North Union timeout as the Pioneers led 35-33 with 4:11 to go.
Following that, Jonathan Alder ran a lot of clock, hit seven of eight free throws and avoided making any boneheaded plays late to secure the win.
Izzard and Grant Welsch each scored 11 to lead the Pioneers, Headings scored seven and Begin added six on two triples.
The move to 7-0 following the win and will be back in action on Friday when they travel to Kenton Ridge for a league matchup.
For North Union, Vernon led all scorers with 14 in the loss while Crabtree added 13 of his own.
They fall to 8-2 after tonight's contest and will look to regroup before hosting Ben Logan on Friday night.
Jackson Izzard (6'3 WG / Jonathan Alder / 2021): While tonight wasn't the best showing we have ever seen from Izzard, the senior wing still did what he needed to do and put together a gritty, smart and physical game on both ends of the floor to lead his team to victory. At 6-foot-3 with great length and athleticism, Izzard is really tough to stop when he gets going downhill, however with a lot of defensive attention on him tonight he drew a lot of contact inside and made a couple of good dump offs to teammates for easy buckets. Nailing three triples from beyond the arc, it was the perimeter shooting of Izzard where he made his mark felt tonight, as he has a very pretty stroke and knocks down the three ball at an efficient clip. Izzard also does a great job on and off the ball defensively as he is an elite communicator who can defend on an island on the perimeter and also possesses the size to hold his own against bigger wings. Although he is a Division I football recruit, Izzard very well could go to school for free to play basketball if he wanted, as he has the size and tools to be very successful at the next level.
Zach Vernon (6'7 PF / North Union / 2022): Every time that we watch Vernon play, we seem to come away more impressed than the last showing we saw as the junior continues to improve at a solid rate. At 6-foot-7 with a husky build, Vernon can move guys around inside and enjoys playing with his back to the basket. We saw that tonight as he had a few good post scores off either combo moves or simple one dribble drop steps and showed off his ability to finish with both hands. He also showed his ability to stretch the floor by stepping out and hitting a three in the second half. We were most impressed with the improvements Vernon has made in his motor, however, as he came up with a few big offensive rebounds tonight and did a solid job on the glass against an extremely disciplined Jonathan Alder squad. Defensively, Vernon still has a little bit of work to do but used his length to block a shot tonight and is continuing to improve on that end as his motor continues to come along.
Preston Crabtree (6'2 WG / North Union / 2021): Crabtree had a decent showing tonight as he finished with 13 points for the Wildcats. As always he scored it from all three levels as he nailed a triple, hit a tough mid range off the dribble and got inside for a tough finish as well as several foul calls. At 6-foot-2 with a good feel, Crabtree is a very talented offensive player who always gets his own on that end of the floor. He can get into his own shot or play off the ball and is always aggressive and looking to make the right play. For small colleges in need of a sharpshooting guard with a ton of potential offensively, look no further than Crabtree as he can light it up on that end of the floor.
Grant Welsch (6'0 G / Jonathan Alder / 2022): After seeing full-time starting duties on varsity for the first time last season, Welsch has quickly stepped into a role as a leader for this year's Pioneer squad. We love how the junior communicates on both ends, plays with a high IQ and plays with a ton of passion. Welsch nailed a three, hit a floater and played some excellent defense throughout to contest, however, what really impressed me was that after leading his guys vocally all night, he showed he was about it in the fourth quarter by connecting on five of six shots at the free throw line to seal the game for Jonathan Alder. We are excited to track the juniors progression and to see the role he will play next season after Jonathan Alder loses Jackson Izzard to graduation.