ELDRIDGE — Most basketball teams do not get a chance for a signature victory in the first game of the season.
But that is exactly what the North Scott boys basketball team accomplished on Friday night in its season-opener against Cedar Rapids Prairie in non-conference action at The Pit.
The Lancers used tough defense in the fourth quarter and made just enough free throws down the stretch to score a 57-52 win over a Prairie team that could be among the best in the state when the season is over.
The Pit was nearly full and fans on both sides brought the energy and intensity to a game that was close thoroughout and had the feel of a regional final instead of contest in November.
"When you only get three non-conference games in a season, this is what we wanted, a game like this," Lancers coach Shamus Budde said. "We knew what they have. When we planned this game out two years ago, we knew what this was going to be like. We wanted to put our guys in those type of situations, and they responded when it mattered."
Every player on Prairie's roster seemed to be about 6 foot, 5 inches and had the wingspan of an eagle. And every Hawks player could take the ball to the basket with almost silky-smooth effort. The length of the Hawks bothered North Scott, especially in the first half, as the Lancers had some trouble just getting shots over the towering reach of the Prairie players. Prairie had six blocked shots in the first half, which helped the visitors to a 28-23 lead at halftime.
Lancers starting guard Sam Kilburg was a victim of two of those blocks.
"You play on the AAU circuit, and you see like players like that but not every single one on the same team," Kilburg said. "It's tough, early on, because we were getting to the rim but they were blocking shots."
North Scott also had trouble with Prairie twins Kris and Keegan Murray. The senior duo are the sons of former Iowa great Kenyon Murray and nearly carried the Hawks to the win. Kris Murray finished with a game-high 24 points and Keegan had 11 of his 15 points in the second half.
But Kilburg and his teammates showed their own toughness in the second half. Kilburg scored eight of his team's first 11 points of the second half to push North Scott ahead at 34-33 halfway through the third.
The teams went back-and-forth from there with the visitors leading 42-41 after three but the Lancers eventually edging ahead after big baskets from Tytan Anderson and two huge 3-pointers from sophomore Landon Eiland. Eiland's 3 from the corner made it 53-48 for the hosts which forced the Hawks to use a timeout with 3 minutes, 35 seconds left in the game.
After that, the Lancers defense locked it down. Prairie made only one of its final nine shots of the game and had just two field goals in the fourth quarter. The hosts got big rebounds and defensive plays from Kilburg, Reece Sommers, Cortaviaus Seales, Carson Rollinger, Trent Allard and Ben Belken. Prairie only had 11 turnovers for the game but six of those were in the fourth quarter as North Scott protected its lead.
"We showed some toughness when it mattered," Kilburg said.
The Lancers had some misadventures at the free-throw line which kept it interesting in the final three minutes of the game. North Scott hit only two of its 10 foul shots until the final 13 seconds when Kilburg made a pair to seal the win at 57-52. Anderson led the home team with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
The Lancers can put this win in their pocket which might come useful when seeding is determined later for the playoffs.
"They are just an exceptional team and we wanted to play those type of teams, and this was a big win. The crowd, on both sides, was great. It was exciting, I have only been a part of a few other games that had an atmosphere like that," Kilburg said.