By Joseph Hayes
It was yet another instant classic.
The Port Huron Northern and Port Huron High boys basketball teams renewed its rivalry Wednesday, with a game local fans will surely remember for years to come.
It would be the Huskies that would make the clutch plays down the stretch to outlast the rival Big Reds, 71-66, in overtime.
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Each team has played plenty of basketball in the past 48 hours; with Northern earning a pair of victories, and Port Huron High succumbing to a pair of heart-wrenching overtime defeats.
On Wednesday night, for much of the game it appeared Port Huron High would have enough to hold off Northern.
Port Huron led 15-8 after the first quarter and 30-25 at halftime. The Big Reds also carried a 48-45 lead into the fourth quarter and led for most of the final stanza.
That is, until late in the quarter when the Huskies began to make their charge. Port Huron was still up, 56-51, with just over four minutes remaining in the game.
That’s when Port Huron Northern senior guard James Delong completed an impressive drive off a crossover to bring Northern within 56-53 with 2:11 to play.
After a Port Huron High turnover and another Delong drive, Northern pulled within, 56-55, with 1:50 left to play.
De’Ovion Price kept Port Huron High ahead with his own lay-up with 1:40 remaining, but Delong continued to make big plays to keep the Huskies within striking distance.
His 3-pointer with 1:05 left tied the game at 58-58 and helped push the game into overtime after each team failed to take advantage of winning opportunities down the stretch.
Once in overtime, Northern quickly captured the momentum with a Carter Stoner 3-pointer and despite the Big Reds attempts to wrestle control, it was the Huskies that would play from ahead.
With two minutes remaining in the extra period, Northern led 65-62 with the ball.
Port Huron pulled within 65-64 with a minute remaining, to set up a hectic final minute, but the Huskies found a way to still pull out the win.
That came despite the heroic efforts of Port Huron junior Nijere Finney, who almost helped the Big Reds steal back the victory, literally; as the Huskies were attempting to run out the clock.
He stole a mid-court pass and finished the steal with a lay-up, to give the Big Reds the go-ahead score late. But Huskies freshman guard Tyler Jamison rushed all of the way to the other end and completed a lay-up himself, to give Northern a go-ahead score at 67-66.
With Port Huron High desperately searching for one last-ditch attempt to get back the lead, Jamison stole the ball and Northern called time-out to preserve the win.
The Big Reds were forced to foul the Huskies several times during the final seconds of the game, and Northern held on for the victory.
Delong scored 18 points to pace Port Northern. Jamison added 17 points and Stoner and Ryan McNeill each scored 15 points for the Huskies.
Price scored 21 points for Port Huron High. Ethan Balon added 15 points and Finney and Jace Mullins each added 13 points for the Big Reds.
“We’ve been in this situation all year,” Northern coach Brian Jamison said. “We’ve lost some heartbreakers this way. We’ve won a lot of games this way too. At least we believe we can win the game and that’s half the battle. And then you have to make some plays.
“I thought Carter made a big three. James came alive and made some big buckets for us and fortunately we came up with some loose balls and some rebounds.”
Each team will now be off for a full week before they resume play for the Macomb Area Conference Tournament.
Meanwhile, Port Huron High will look to recover after a pair of close defeats.
“We were right there the two games in overtime,” Port Huron High coach Marion Stewart said. “We did some things we didn’t want to do. We stayed tough, we stayed strong, we stayed together as a team.
“I’m proud of the kids for how they are working. It was a long two days. But this is preparing us for districts too.”