POWERS - The North Central Jets are about to have their resolve tested. Though the top-ranked and undefeated Jets escaped with a 68-55 Central U.P. Conference victory over Big Bay de Noc Thursday night, an injury to a key player put a damper on the evening.
With under a minute remaining in the first half, power forward Travis Vincent went up for a rebound and came down hard, favoring his ankle. Vincent, one of the Upper Peninsula's top players in Class D was carried off the court by his teammates minutes later and did not return.
The Jets held a 38-22 lead at the half, and thanks to their depth, were able to fend off an inspired effort by the Black Bears.
Keith Shelton | Daily Press
North Central guard Jason Whitens drives inside against Cole Potvin (4) and Bryce Thompson (12) of Big Bay de Noc during the second half, Thursday at Powers.
Big Bay de Noc forward Zachary Pomeroy takes a jump shot as North Central’s Josh?Granquist goes for the block, during the first half, Thursday at Powers.
Keith Shelton | Daily Press
North Central forward Travis Vincent gets his ankle looked at by a team trainer after suffering an ankle injury in the first half of Thursday's Central U.P. Conference game against Big Bay de Noc at Powers.
With Vincent on the bench, Josh Granquist scored six of his eight points in the third quarter and Rob Granquist had eight of his game-high 22 in the fourth.
"We had some guys step up when we needed them, but losing Travis, that's a big part of our team," said Jets head coach Adam Mercier. "But it's a next man up mentality. Who knows how long he'll be out for. We're going to have to have guys step up and fill that role. It's going to be an ankle (with Vincent). We just don't know if it's going to be broken or not."
"Robby and Josh played a nice third quarter and Caleb Martin and Eric Prestay also did a nice job filling in, inside as well."
Big Bay 10 12 16 17 - 55
N. Central 17 21 15 15 - 68
Big Bay de Noc - Potvin 11, Thompson 2, Moore 2, Pomeroy 4, DeMars 20, Swayer 11, Ranguette 5; FT: 10-18; F: 16; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: Potvin 2, DeMars 4, Ranguette.
North Central - Polfus 5, R. Granquist 22, J. Granquist 8, Vincent 8, Whitens 21, Martin 4; FT: 10-16; F: 16; Fouled out: Whitens (3:39, 4th quarter); 3-point field goals: Polfus, R. Granquist, J. Granquist, Whitens.
Vincent was averaging 19.7 points per game coming into Thursday night's contest and averaged double digit rebounds as well. Prior to the injury, he had eight points.
The Black Bears seemed undaunted by the Jets' powerful pedigree and kept the game within single digits until the four minute mark of the second quarter. The Jets briefly held a 20 point lead in the third but Black Bears forward Tyler DeMars kept his team in the game with hot-shooting.
DeMars led the Black Bears with a Brett Branstrom-like 20 points and 20 rebounds, including four triples, three of them in the fourth quarter.
Although Big Bay never got back within single digits, they stayed within the realm of respectability by keeping defensive pressure on the Jets. They outscored North Central 33-30 in the second half.
"I don't think Big Bay is known for its defense, so I've been trying to do small drills in practice that sometimes the kids think are kind of silly, but it helped tonight," said Black Bears head coach Angie LaLonde. "They were really able to switch when they saw guys come through, and they learned to communicate better. So I was really pleased with their defense."
Senior guard Cole Potvin played an unselfish game at point guard, being responsible with the ball and dishing it out to his teammates. He finished with 11 points and six assists and Loren Swayer had 11 points with 11 rebounds.
"Cole is kind of a little gimpy. He has a bruise on his leg and a bum ankle that he's been to the chiropractor for twice this week," said LaLonde. "But he can see the floor well and he can tell guys where to go. He's just a great all-around athlete and a great kid to have on your team.
"It was a good all-around effort by all of them tonight. They kept their heads in the game and I was proud. Loren Swayer is sometimes a little timid under the basket, but he scored tonight. I was proud of the total team effort and communication. It's a good game to build off of. You never like to lose but a 13-point loss against North Central isn't bad."
The Black Bears plugged up the paint all night long with their 2-3 zone and made things tough on the Jets, but freshman guard Jason Whitens stepped up in a big way and got the tough points North Central needed to open up a 16-point lead at halftime. Whitens had 20 points at the break and finished with a career-high tying 21 points.
"Jason has to stay aggressive, he can score the basketball," said Mercier. "I don't care what grade he is, or what grade any of these kids are in. I want the person who's hot to keep scoring. The pedal has to be to the metal all the time. Anyone on our team has the green light in any situation, but we need these guys to be aggressive, especially with Travis being out now. We need guys to step up."
Feeling fortunate to pull out the win under tough circumstance, Mercier and the Jets will now turn their attention to North Dickinson, which they travel to Saturday in a make-up game.
"This was the first game where never got comfortable, and that's good for us," said Mercier. "They came into our gym and really gave us one on the chest. It's going to be another good game on Saturday. We need more of these games. It was a good test for us tonight and I thought our kids responded."
North Central (8-0, 5-0 CUP) which shot 27-of-63 from the floor, also won the JV game 77-36 with Dawson Bilski scoring 18 points.
Big Bay de Noc (5-3, 3-3 CUP) hosts Hannahville, Monday.