TONTOGANY — Minutes after Thursday’s league game an Otsego player rushed back into the locker-room corridor and exclaimed that Eastwood had just lost its own Northern Buckeye Conference game.
Otsego, which lost its first NBC game of the season to Eastwood exactly one week earlier on its home floor, was now looking up at the Eagles in the league title race.
The Knights, now tied for first place, found a rhythm from beyond the 3-point arc in Thursday’s first half and despite a substandard final 16 minutes, held off Elmwood for a 40-37 league win.
“I think our overlooking came when we went out at halftime. I think we just thought we had it in the bag,” Otsego head coach Scott Bernthisel said. “Credit to us, we had enough left in the tank to pull a big one out.”
Otsego improved to 16-1 overall and 11-1 in the NBC. Eastwood, which had not lost a league game, dropped to 11-1 in the NBC after a 70-59 loss at Rossford on Thursday. Otsego and Eastwood play the second of two meetings at Eastwood on Feb. 13 in what could be the defacto league championship.
The Knights knocked down five first-half 3-pointers en route to a 26-12 lead at the break, which included a 19-7 run after the first four minutes of the game.
But Elmwood switched to a man-to-man defense, fought for numerous offensive rebounds and the NBC’s second leading scorer Brooklyn Thrash took the game over in the third quarter.
Thrash scored 15 of her game-high 21 points in the frame as the Royals outscored Otsego 21-9 to inch within two points, 35-33 entering the fourth quarter.
Kayla Minch, who led all players with nine rebounds, then hit a putback layup in the first minute of the first quarter to tie the score at 35-35. The teams traded free throws to keep the score tied at 37-all with four minutes to play.
Otsego, which starts five seniors, held Elmwood — which missed two transition layups in the final four minutes — scoreless the rest of the way and split free throws three different times for the 40-37 win.
“We came back, on their home court. Bunch of seniors, and man we fought back,” Elmwood head coach Doug Reynolds said. “We missed a couple layups and that’s huge. And then we let (Hannah) Smoyer get some offensive boards and she’s a great foul shooter. We had our chance even down at the end.”
After Otsego missed the second of two free throws with 6.1 seconds to play, Thrash’s 3-point heave — which rattled off the rim — came after the buzzer sounded and was waved off.
Smoyer led the Knights with 14 points, while making 7-of-10 free throws. Brynne Limes, who had three 3s in the first half, added 10 points with a team-high six rebounds.
“We never quite got in sync in the second half, and that’s a credit to Elmwood. They got after us and got a ton offensive rebounds and we were just kind of on our heels,” Bernthisel said. “We hung around. They really outplayed us in the second half, but that’s what experience does for you.”
Following a Thrash triple, Otsego led 7-5 at the midpoint of the first quarter. The Knights quickly rattled off a 7-0 run with a Limes 3-pointer and layups from Taylor Cepek and Ellie Roberts.
Kylie Brinkman, who is second in the NBC with 4.3 assists per game, made her only field goal of the game — a 3 from the left wing — just seconds into the second quarter. Limes made it a 9-0 run to open the frame, sinking two more 3s from the same spot to take a 23-8 lead.
Thrash got Elmwood rolling to start the second half, firing a 3 from the same left wing, and a pair of putbacks twice cut the Otsego lead to eight points.
Minich worked for an offensive rebound a couple of possessions later before Thrash scored another inside bucket through contact. Her free throw brought the Royals within 29-26 with 12 minutes to play.
Otsego, though, held Elmwood to just four fourth-quarter points with none coming in the latter half of the frame.
“When we play our zone defense the right way, we’re pretty good defensively. When we had to, we did tonight,” Bernthisel said. “Not the whole game, but when we had to play it the right way we did.”
Thrash 6-2-3—21, Minich 3-0-2—8, Mareches 2-0-0—4, Zimmerman 0-1-0—3, Bingham 0-0-1—1, Watters 0-0-0—0, Barber 0-0-0—0, Reinhard 0-0-0—0, Murray 0-0-0—0. TOTALS: 11 3 6-8 — 37.
Smoyer 2-1-7—14, Limes 0-3-1—10, Cepek 3-0-1—7, Brinkman 0-1-1—4, Roberts 1-0-1—3, Moser 1-0-0—2, Greenhagen 0-0-0—0. TOTALS: 7 5 11-21 — 40.