Before North was to legitimize itself as a contender, it needed a win with substance, a pound-the-chest kind of win to elevate the Redskins to the next level.
They found it on Friday night in front of a raucous crowd at East, erasing a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to pull out a 76-72 victory, improving to 3-0.
“For us to come into a crazy atmosphere and come out with a win,” said North’s Conner Frankamp, who scored a game-high 32 points. “This is a huge step.”
With the focus of the East student section upon him, Frankamp thrived under the pressure and even interacted with the crowd blow-by-blow.
Things were most tense for North when the Blue Aces took a 66-56 lead on a Samajae Jones jumper with 5:35 remaining.
“I was a little bit worried, to be honest,” Frankamp said.
Then in the span of 11 seconds, Frankamp completed a free throw for a three-point play and then delivered a three-pointer after a steal to cut the lead to two points.
A minute later, Frankamp canned his sixth and final three-pointer of the game to give North a 70-68 lead with 2:41 left. The senior showed a rare bit of emotion as he glared at the East student body after he hit the shot.
East floundered when the Redskins switched to their full-court press. In the final five minutes, the Blue Aces committed five turnovers and missed all five of their free throws.
“We’ve been saving the press until we absolutely needed it,” North coach Gary Squires said. “When we switch to it, the kids feel like we should steal the ball every single time.”
East shot 57 percent (28 of 49) and out-rebounded North 39-20, yet lost the game.
“We’re on the verge of being a pretty solid team,” East coach Joe Jackson said. “It came down to a lot of little things. We just had too many mental breakdowns when we went up.”
Everyone assumed North would be the best team in the city this season. Now the Redskins have a win to back that up and share the league lead with Kapaun Mount Carmel.
“This win tells me that we have a lot of heart and we never gave up and we know how to play basketball,” North junior Zach Beard said.
Beard sank 11 of 12 free throws, including 10 of 10 in the fourth quarter, and scored 25 points.
“There was one point where I thought, ‘Oh snaps, this is really it,’” Beard said. “But we just found a way tonight. We proved to ourselves how good we can be.”