North Idaho College lost its height, but not its heart. In this case, you can spell heart “Nathaniel Bailey.”
He may have been the smallest player on the court for the Cardinals, but Bailey came up with the biggest game to spark NIC to a 74-65 Scenic West Athletic Conference men’s basketball victory over Utah Valley State College on Saturday night in Christianson Gymnasium.
When NIC lost its tallest player, 6-foot-10 Steve Ryan, to a broken nose in the first half, coach Hugh Watson admitted he didn’t think much of the Cardinals’ chances against a Utah Valley team that has been challenging for the SWAC lead and had a definite height advantage.
“But you know,” Watson added, “anything can happen in this game.”
When Ryan went down, Bailey, Jovann Johnson and Johnny Goodman, especially, stood up.
“I knew I had to play the way I’m capable of playing,” said Bailey, who gunned in a game-high 25 points and added two assists and four steals to light a fire under the Cardinals.
He was 3 of 6 on 3-pointers and 8 of 12 on free throws, going to the line when the Wolverines tried to stop his drives to the hoop in the second half.
“It’s probably the best overall game he’s had,” said Watson. “I told him in the second half (when Bailey got 18 of his points) instead of taking shots outside, to take it to the hoop and it’ll open up some things.”
Bailey said he didn’t know if it was his best game, but he was pleased to contribute as the Cardinals picked up the slack for the missing Ryan.
“We knew we had to do it for him, and for the rest of the team, too,” Bailey said.
With NIC (13-8, 4-7 SWAC) struggling to get some consistency, Watson shook up his lineup, starting freshman Joe Clay at point guard in hopes of opening up the offense for fellows like Bailey and Johnson.
But as crucial as the offense was, it was probably the Cardinals’ defense that was the key against the Wolverines (17-6, 6-5).
Without Ryan to contend with the 6-10 Darius Beard and the 6-4 Johnson assigned to cover the athletic 6-7 Silester Rivers, NIC had to change its defensive strategy.
If the Cardinals could keep the ball from getting inside, Watson reasoned, they would heighten their chances.
“We wanted to put pressure on them outside,” Watson said. “We knew if we stayed with the pressure defense enough, it would open up some things.”
It seemed to play havoc with the Wolverines.
“They got a couple (of easy back-door baskets) on us because we didn’t rotate, but generally we did a good job,” he said.
Rivers led the Wolverines with with 17 points, but got just seven the second half, and Beard had 13. They each had nine rebounds to lead Utah Valley’s 38-26 advantage on the boards.
But the Wolverines were plagued by 31 turnovers, many of which the Cardinals turned into points, and had an uncharacteristic lack of hustle, according to coach Jeff Reinert.
“We didn’t hustle. It was just a lack of effort,” said Reinert, who saw his Wolverines drop two games on the weekend trip to drop into the second division.
“We didn’t even show up. We embarrassed ourselves.
“But you have to give them (Cardinals) credit,” he was quick to add. “They’ve had a tough year and have been struggling, but they fought through it.”
The game was a seesaw affair with eight ties and 10 lead changes until Bailey nailed the first of his three second-half 3-pointers 6-1/2 minutes after intermission to give the Cardinals a 44-41 lead. Utah Valley got within a point at 47-46, but Bailey, Johnson and Goodman led NIC on a 16-7 run in a little more than 6 minutes that opened a 10-point margin.
Goodman, who had been starting, came off the bench this night, contributing nine points, six assists and six steals. And he had the signature play of the night when he stole a Utah Valley inbounds pass and jammed home a basket seconds after feeding Travis Houston for a fastbreak basket.
NIC 74, Utah Valley St. 65
Utah Valley State (17-6, 6-5) - Chappell 3-6 0-0 8, Frampton 1-3 0-0 2, Mulford 3-7 2-2 10, Peirce 1-1 0-0 2, Lindquist 2-8 4-4 8, Rivers 7-8 3-5 17, Davis 0-2 1-2 1, Wheeler 1-4 2-3 4, Puemier 0-2 0-0 0, Beard 6-9 1-1 13. Totals 24-50 13-17 65.
North Idaho (13-8, 4-7) - Johnson 7-11 5-6 20, Bailey 7-15 8-12 25, Goodman 4-11 0-1 9, Houston 3-5 2-2 8, Clay 0-2 0-0 0, Watson 1-3 0-0 2, Fisher 2-3 2-2 6, Al-Arorey 0-1 0-0 0, Ryan 1-6 2-2 4. Totals 25-57 19-25 74.
Halftime - Utah Valley State 31, North Idaho 30. 3-point goals - Utah Valley State 4-10 (Chappell 2-3, Mulford 2-6, Davis 0-1), North Idaho 5-16 (Bailey 3-6, Johnson 1-1, Goodman 1-6, Clay 0-1, Watson 0-2). Fouled out - None. Rebounds - Utah Valley State 38 (Rivers, Beard 9), North Idaho 26 (Al-Arorey 6). Assists - Utah Valley State 16 (Rivers 6), North Idaho 17 (Goodman 6). Total fouls - Utah Valley State 22, North Idaho 19. Technicals - None. A - NA.