Nanooks stage furious second-half comeback to down Homer en route to weekend sweep
It has been no secret to Nanooks fans that Nome’s varsity boys basketball season has not gone as well as the players had hoped. The Nanooks squad, however, got the proverbial “monkey off their backs” last weekend, and broke an eleven-game losing streak by sweeping the Homer Mariners at home in front of packed crowds in the Nome-Beltz gym.
Building on what has developed into an effective zone defense, the Nanooks held Homer to 18 second-half points and worked back from a 19-point, mid-third quarter deficit to beat the Mariners 51-47 in the opening matchup. And just to prove Friday’s win was no fluke, they completed the weekend sweep, and established their first back-to-back wins of the year, with an exclamation point 53-38 victory over their 3A opponents on Saturday.
The Nanooks Friday evening game did not start favorably, and went from bad to worse just before half time. The players looked to enter the locker room down by just ten points. Many in the crowd had already begun to file out of the stands for the break when they discovered a foul had been called on a three-point buzzer beater attempt by Homer’s Koby Erzwiler. As he stood by himself on the court, the Mariner’s captain calmly drained all three free throws to put his team up 29-16.
The Nanooks’ scoring drought extended to four minutes during the third quarter. This was broken by senior Mikey Scott when he sank a pair of foul shots around the five-minute mark. Those points cut into the Mariner’s biggest deficit, and left Nome trailing 35-18. Scott would sink another two free throws on the next Nome possession, sparking his team to a 10-1 run that would cut Homer’s lead to 36-26 at the end of the third frame.
Woe to those spectators that thought the fourth quarter was a safe time to head to the concessions stand. And woe to opponents that don't double team junior Bobby Koezuna. Buoyed by a scoring barrage from the Nanooks sharpshooter, Nome quickly cut Homer’s lead to four points at 39-35.
The Nanooks trapping defense forced multiple turnovers by the Mariners. Important steals by senior Wilson Hoogendorn at the 4:50 mark, and a minute later by Koezuna, helped cut the lead to one. Sophomore Gareth Hansen was fouled on a drive and hit a free throw to tie the game at 43-43 with 3:37 left to play.
A block by sophomore Ian Smith at 3:12 was collected and taken down court by the Nanooks. Hoogendorn found a way around the Homer defense and was wide open in the right corner for what could be his most important three-point basket of the season. With that, Nome held the lead at 46-43, their first since being up 7-6 mid-way through the first quarter.
The play of the game occurred on the Nanooks next possession as Scott fought off three Homer players for a rebound off a missed Mariner’s free throw. He helped bring the ball down court and passed it to Hoogendorn who got the assist by connecting with Harrison Moore, who was cutting toward the basket. Moore’s only field goal of the game was a big one, as it extended the lead to five with just under two minutes to play.
The Mariners, however, would not go quietly. A dazzling reverse layup by Erzwiler at the one-minute mark, and a bucket off a short drive by Charles Rohr with 19.3 seconds on the clock cut the Nanooks lead to one point at 48-47.
Scott led an aggressive Nome squad in the waning moments, as he got to the line for two free throws. You could hear a pin drop as the Nanook faithful held their breaths. The unflappable Scott hit both shots, and brought the cushion back up to three points. Koezuna, perhaps the most unlikely Nanooks rebounder, used good positioning for Homer’s game-tying launch. He corralled the errant attempt with 3.4 left on the clock and was promptly fouled. He hit the ensuing free throw to end the game at 51-47.
The Nanooks 25 points in the final frame nearly doubled their scoring output of the first three quarters. Koezuna’s final free throw brought his fourth quarter point total to 10, and his total on the night to 16. Scott led all scorers with 17. Erzwiler paced the Mariners with 16 points.
“Just keep our heads up and just really try to play has a team,” said Koezuna after the game when asked about how the team remained positive during the losing streak.
“I’m not paying attention to the score, more just trying to play hard the entire game,” added Scott. “A score is a score at the end of the day, but being able to say that you worked hard, and you played as a team, it’s a great feeling with a win or a loss. It’s our mind set that we’re just going to work hard. It was cool to be able to say that we came back from a giant deficit.”
“We just know our defense is always there, so we can depend on it,” said Hoogendorn in reference to what the team did to turn their fortunes around.
The Nanooks were led by Gareth Hansen’s game-high, 21-point effort in the 53-38 victory over Homer on Saturday evening. The Mariners were topped again by Erzwiler, who scored 15.
Nome opened the home stand with a 64-57 loss to the Gambell Qughsatkut on Thursday. The game’s leading scorer was Gambell senior Wallace Ungwiluk, who dropped 19 points on the Nanooks. Scott and Koezuna led Nome with 14 and 12 points respectively.
The pair of victories over Homer helped improve the Nanooks season record to 3-12.
Lady Nanooks third at Grace Tourney
The Nome-Beltz girls varsity basketball team traveled to Anchorage last weekend to play in the 2017 Lady Grizzly Hardwood Classic. They started first round play of the eight-team tourney with an overtime victory against the host Lady Grizzlies of Grace Christian High School. Both squads stood toe-to-toe with each other from the end of the second quarter to the end of regulation. The score was 16-16 at the half, 27-27 after the third quarter, and 38-38 at the end of regular time.
The Nanooks were able to score five points off a pair of baskets by sophomore EJ Rochon and a free throw by sophomore Kastyn Lie during the overtime period. They held the Grizzlies to a single field goal, and came away with 43-40 win. Nome’s leading scorer was Lie with 14 points. Freshman Lisa Okbaok, who was selected as an All-Tourney player, chipped in 11 for the Nanooks.
In the second round, the Lady Nanooks ran into a buzz saw in the form of the Lady Wolves of Sitka High School, who entered the tournament as the third ranked 3A team in the state of Alaska. Nome used a pair of three-point shots by junior Kerry Ahmasuk to exit the first quarter down by just one point at 13-12. The Nanooks were nearly doubled up the rest of the game and lost the contest 54-33. Rochon led the squad in scoring with 12 points. Okbaok contributed 10 points.
The Nanooks bounced back in the third-place game as they used an 18-point scoring spree by Lie to pull off a 52-41 victory over the Lady Harpoonerettes of Tikigaq High School, the tourney’s lone 2A squad. Ahmasuk hit three treys in the contest and contributed 11 points. The Lady Nanooks season record improved to 10-7.
“We had our own little section of people,” said Nome-Beltz head coach Don Stiles in reference to the road fans who attended the Nanooks games during the tournament. “There were quite a few there.”