The Northwest boys basketball team is an emotional bunch, which can be good and bad, and Friday night's contest against Kapaun Mount Carmel brewed up just enough adversity to put the Grizzlies' maturity to the test.
Controversial calls riled up both sidelines, but Northwest kept its cool the longest and won 50-47 at home.
"We're at that point in the season where it's time we start moving up the mountain," Northwest coach Chris Collins said. "You don't want to peak too soon, but we want to move up the mountain. As much mentally as physically."
This game was decided by character as much as talent.
When the tempo of the game couldn't untangle itself from the mess of missed shots, fouls and turnovers, it was Northwest that escaped with the win to improve to 10-5 overall and 9-3 in the City League. Kapaun dropped to 7-8 and 4-7 in the league.
"That in itself is a victory," Collins acknowledged. "They didn't allow it to overcome them. It's a process. They're maturing. In order to be a great basketball team, you're going to have to play through those things. It's going to come at some point."
The test came with three minutes left in the fourth quarter, when Danny Mitchell gave Kapaun its first lead since the second quarter, 44-43.
Northwest responded by holding Kapaun to three points on its final eight possessions, featuring eight misses. The Grizzlies scored their last seven points on free throws.
"You've got to make the most of each possession," Northwest junior Spenser Gales (12 points, 12 rebounds) said while tending to a bloody mouth after the game. "If you don't make a shot, then you've got to stop them getting a shot."
Northwest's Craig Nicholson finished with a game-high 17 points, while Kapaun had a balanced attack with Michael Martin, Nick Cook and Taylor Floyd all scoring 11.
With Northwest trying to protect a 49-47 lead with under 40 seconds left, Broc Kramer lost control of his dribble out of bounds and Kapaun thought Kramer was the last to touch it. But Northwest was awarded the ball and made a free-throw that forced Kapaun into shooting a three-pointer.
Kapaun's Keaton Lewis was able to fire off two open potential game-tying threes, but neither connected. Coach Bernie Pearson thought it shouldn't have come to that.
"We didn't get a defensive rebound when we needed to," Pearson said, "but there were several calls that we feel should have went our way that didn't. In the end, though, we didn't make the plays we needed to make."
Northwest did make plays on the way to an important stepping-stone victory.
"There's going to be moments like that where we're going to have to overcome in the next few days," said Collins, whose team just started a four-games-in-five-days stretch. "But they passed the test tonight."
Kapaun (7-8, 4-7) 7 15 8 17 — 47 Northwest (10-5, 9-3) 8 13 15 14 - 50
KAPAUN: Hullings 1 0-0 2, Lewis 2 0-2 5, Martin 4 2-4 11, Cook 4 3-4 11, Floyd 5 1-5 11, Mitchell 1 2-2 4, Sheets 1 0-0 3, Washington 0 0-0 0, Baxter 0 0-0 0, Griffith 0 0-0 0, Akao 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 (3) 8-17 47.
NORTHWEST: Nicholson 5 6-7 17, Johnson 1 0-0 2, Landenberger 3 0-0 7, Miller 2 1-2 5, Gales 4 4-8 12, Kramer 3 1-1 7, Fizer 0 0-0 0, Tuggle 0 0-0 0, Carter 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 (2) 12-18 50.