Tonawanda News — With energetic guard Nehemiah Stone missing in action because of a death in the family, the North Tonawanda basketball team needed somebody to step up and make up for the missing production.
Sophomore forward Chris Woodard was up to the challenge Monday night, finishing with a double-double (14 points, 17 rebounds), but it wasn't enough as NT missed 10 free throws and about a dozen layups en route to a 53-49 loss to Lew-Port (6-7, 4-7 NFL) on senior night.
"You have to make your inside shots when you're the bigger, stronger team and you have to hit your free throws. So we deserved the loss," said NT coach Ryan Mountain.
The Jacks (9-8, 8-5 NFL) trailed most of the game and seemed ready to make a run several times, but the Lancers had an answer for everything.
Lew-Port coach Matt Bradshaw said his team had been in many games like Monday night's slugfest, and was happy to see his players answer his challenge.
"I challenged the guys at halftime, I said 'We've been in a lot of games like this when we're up at half. We've been here before. What are we going to do different this time? They're not going to lay down for us; we have to go out and take it from them.' I think our guys went out and met the challenge and did a great job," Bradshaw said.
Half way through the third quarter the Jacks trailed 25-22 and were in desperate need of an offensive spark. Senior Ian Gilhousen went hard to the basket at the end of a stagnant possession and missed the running layup, but Woodard was right there to pick up the offensive rebound — one of nine in the game — and put it up and in.
The Lancers inbounded the ball and brought it up near half court, where Gilhousen picked off an errant pass and drove it all the way to the basket. He threw down a big slam dunk and the NT portion of the crowd erupted, but the Lancers stayed composed and rattled off a 6-0 run in response to regain some momentum.
Gilhouosen, who finished with 11 points and six rebounds, was noticeably frustrated as the game progressed and became more physical. He was called for a technical foul at the start of the fourth quarter, but the Jacks seemed to respond once again when Woodard grabbed a missed free throw and put it back in.
Mountain said Lew-Port's ability to make shots was a big difference in the game, and that was true in the fourth quarter, where the Lancers outscored the Jacks 18-15.
Bradshaw was pleased with Lew-Port's resiliency, especially late in the game.
"In the past, teams were getting momentum on us and we would kind of fold; this time we answered them," he said. "Every time they punched us we punched back. That's what I was most impressed by, this was just a great win for us. The best win of the year for us."
Lew-Port's Nick Mansour finished with a game-high 17 points and made most of his free throws down the stretch to help his team hold off the Jacks.
Mountain said that, knowing the Jacks would be without Stone, he wanted to replace his point guard's energy with his team's depth. Ten NT players recorded a point and Mountain said his reserves played well and gave some great minutes.
"They put us in position to win," he said. "We coach every kid. We want guys tapping the foot and if they get four or five seconds on the court it's special to them. It really breeds team unity. It's real easy to get together and say 'team' during a loss but now is the time where team is really important."
Next up for NT is Grand Island on Wednesday night and it will be the Vikings' senior night. Tip is scheduled for 7 p.m.Contact sports editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.