North Central senior Tyler Howkinson has not been the Thunderbirds’ prime-time-player — or “PTPer” as Dick Vitale would say — as he ranks fourth on the team in scoring at less than 10 points per game.
But behind Howkinson’s career night in John R. Wooden Gymnasium, the Class A school from Farmersburg made history, baby!
“Semistate, man, it’s pretty awesome,” said Howkinson, whose 31 points helped the Thunderbirds claim the school’s first boys basketball regional championship. North Central (15-9) held on for a 56-44 victory over Edinburgh (16-8).
The 6-foot guard drilled 5 of 6 3-point attempts in the game and ripped the nets for 21 in the first half.
“I actually wasn’t feeling it in warmups, but I took that first shot and it went in, so I just kept shooting them,” Howkinson said.
“I didn’t realize I had that many [points].”
The Thunderbirds jumped out to a 19-13 lead after the opening quarter, Howkinson equaling the Lancers point total at that point. Howkinson’s fourth 3-pointer of the first half — this one from NBA range — put the Thunderbirds ahead 27-15 in the second quarter and the rest of the Thunderbirds four-guard lineup continued to attack the basket.
Jordan Stefancik and Bobby Swaby added buckets on aggressive drives with Edinburgh’s 6-foot-8 sophomore pulled away from the basket thanks to North Central’s spread offense.
“We wanted to spread them out, take 24 [6-8 Jordan Burton] away from the basket so he’s not there waiting when we’re attacking the basket. We just kept being patient, because eventually a team’s going to get sick of playing defense and they’re going to get lazy once,” North Central Ryan Kamaan said of his offensive gameplan.
Stefancik’s and-1 drive put North Central up 35-24, but Edinburgh got a layup from guard Devin Burton and then took advantage of one of North Central’s five turnovers to get another layup to pull the Lancers within seven at halftime.
North Central shot 13 of 24 from the field in the first half behind Howkinson’s 8 of 12, but the integral component for the Thunderbirds was their edge on the boards: 13 to 5.
Kamman was concerned — especially after allowing 15 second-chance points in the first-round regional win over Lutheran — with Edinburgh’s potential to hurt his team on the glass with the 6-8 Burton needing extra attention.
“Our rebounding was really good. Crashing down on 24, I was worried [the Lancers’] other guys would get to the glass, but we did a great job,” Kamaan said.
Howkinson led the way on the boards with 10, with Corbin Rehmel adding six in addition to drawing the duty of keeping the Lancers’ big man from being a big factor.
“We want to try to jam the middle as much as we can, to try to take away their post game,” Kamman said. “I thought we did a really good job of fronting the post. We made it tough even if he got the lob… We made everything tough for them.”
Another Burton, Devin, was a perfect 5 for 5 from the field, including 4 for 4 beyond the 3-point arc.
“We lost 22 a couple times there, that was disappointing, I think he kind of kept them in the game for a while there,” Kamaan said.
Devin Burton hit a 3 to pull the Lancers within 39-34 early in the third, and then Corey Burton’s layup kept them within five after a Bobby Swaby layup.
“We didn’t let them get within [closer than] five points. Once we stopped that run, there’s no looking back,” Swaby said.
Howkinson’s final 3-pointer stretched the lead back to eight, 44-36, after the Thunderbirds went almost three minutes without scoring. Edinburgh didn’t capitalize on that drought, and Stefancik hit Swaby for a wide-open layup with 6:33 left in the game to keep it an eight-point game.
“Bobby got a back-door there for a layup, that kind of settled us down a little bit,” Kamaan said.
Said Stefancik: “It’s just the experience we had out there. You know when to attack, when to hold back.”
North Central had gone into clock-running mode, taking full advantage of a four-guard lineup that only committed 10 total turnovers in Saturday’s two games.
“They can trap, but we have three other guys that can handle the basketball,” Kamman said. “And tonight, we did a great job of always coming to the basketball.”
Swaby, the senior point guard and three-year starter at that spot, and his three backcourt mates dribbled out much of the clock and knocked down plenty of free throws to secure the win, much to the chagrin of a huge Edinburgh crowd. The Lancers were also seeking the school’s first regional title.
Edinburgh continued to battle, pulling back within six with two and a half minutes left on a jump-hook by the 6-8 Jordan Burton. After Stefancik missed the second of two free-throw attempts, Howkinson outhustled Jordan Burton for a loose rebound in the corner, which sealed the win after reserve Robert Horn hit two foul shots.
The Thunderbirds have proved to be closers in the postseason.
“At the beginning, we were definitely capable. Then we went through some rough parts during the year and we finally put it together,” said Stefancik, who averaged 18 points in the two regional wins.