Opening-night heroics: Nicholson lifts Northwest by Southeast

Every time Northwest guard Craig Nicholson had the basketball Friday night at Southeast, there was an awfully good chance that he would elicit “ooohs” from the fans with yet another sweet play.

One time it was when he turned the ankles of a Southeast defender with a perfect crossover dribble. Another time was when the 5-foot-9 junior drove the lane amid Southeast’s towering forwards, executing a tear-drop shot.

But he got the most cheers and head shakes when he hit the game-winning shot with five seconds remaining.

Nicholson scored a game-high 36 points in Northwest’s 80-78 victory in the season opener. The Grizzlies trailed by 12 early in the final period.

“That’s the type of player he is,” Northwest coach Chris Collins said of Nicholson, who was 7 of 20 from the floor and 21 of 28 from the free-throw line. “He’s our leader. I challenge him more than anyone I’ve ever challenged as a coach because I know he has so much potential. This is just the surface right now.”

With 3:32 to go in the third quarter, Southeast went on an 18-6 run, sparked by Hayden Harris’ fourth three-pointer.

Harris finished with 22 points, hitting 4 of 7 from three-point range. Devonte Garland came off the bench to add eight points in the period, while Gavin Thurman scored 12 of his 22 points in the same quarter. Thurman had eight rebounds and three blocked shots.

Northwest, trailing 70-58 early in the fourth, chipped away at the Buffaloes’ lead.

“We focused on defense,” Nicholson said. “That’s what we worked on all summer. Defense wins championships, so that’s what we had to do to win.”

Nicholson and June Johnson, who had 21 points, hit threes. Spenser Gales hit a jumper and scored on a tip-in during a 20-6 run. He finished with eight points and 13 rebounds.

With the Grizzlies trailing 76-75, Nicholson dribbled right, went back left and drove inside for a layup. He was fouled and hit the free throw for the 78-76 lead with 48.5 seconds remaining.

Reggie Williams answered with a basket, but in the final 30 seconds, Nicholson had the ball.

“I was just thinking, ‘We’ve got to score to win,’æ” Nicholson said.

With about nine seconds remaining, Nicholson inched forward, then drove the lane for the winning basket.

Thurman’s contested three-point attempt at the buzzer fell short.

The comeback didn’t surprise Collins.

“I’m very excited, but that’s something we expected,” he said. “.æ.æ. I’ll show you my practice schedule from yesterday. The guys, they know what to do — up seven, down five. We do this all the time, late-game situations. They’re learning, they’re learning, but we have so much more ahead of us.”

Northwest (1-0, 1-0) 15 21 22 22 — 80

Southeast (0-1, 0-1) 23 13 32 10 — 78

NORTHWEST: Johnson 8 2-2 21, Landenberger 1 0-2 2, Gales 4 0-2 8, Miller 5 2-2 12, Nicholson 7 21-28 36, Moncada 0 1-2 1. Totals 25 (4) 26-38 80.

SOUTHEAST: Harris 6 6-8 22, Gunter 4 0-0 8, Thurman 8 4-5 22, Brooks 3 0-0 7, Williams 4 3-4 11, Garland 4 0-2 8. Totals 29 (7) 13-19 78.