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Teams once had a common strategy for beating Northrop. Sometimes it was easy, sometimes it was not so easy, but it usually worked:
Frustrate the Bruins either physically or mentally and watch them beat themselves.
But with the majority of the Northrop boys basketball roster being seniors and one more defeat ending their high school careers, the Bruins confronted their major deficiency.
It was now or never.
In its three games in Class 4A Sectional 5, Northrop played its best basketball of the season and maybe the best it has played in years. From the opening tip, the Bruins were focused, they were determined and they did not let bumps in the road tear them apart.
DeKalb tried everything it could on Saturday night to get into the Bruins' heads. It slowed the game down and made Northrop work on the defensive end. It was physical with Bryson and Brenton Scott, including an intentional foul midway through the first.
Bryson Scott was relegated to the sideline for most of the first half with foul trouble.
These things would have gotten into the heads of less experienced Northrop teams of the past, even at times earlier this season.
Nothing the Barons did Saturday worked as Northrop breezed to a 67-47 victory and its third consecutive sectional championship.
The Bruins will play New Haven (17-5) on Saturday in the first semifinal of the Marion Regional. The two teams played on Dec. 21, with Northrop earning a 71-66 victory.
The winner will play the victor of top-ranked Carmel (21-2) and No. 8 Kokomo (22-2) in the nightcap.
“These are my boys,” said Northrop coach Barak Coolman on Saturday. “I love them to death and they love me. We have some good days together and some bad days together, but it is one of those things where it is neat to see them growing up and continue to buy into what we are doing.”
As recently as a few weeks ago, there were questions if Northrop could pull it together for the postseason. The Bruins ended the season losers of four of their final five regular season games. It was against elite competition, but still, could a team that had shown the tendency to be easily flustered survive such a slump?
That question was answered with convincing wins over Carroll, North Side and DeKalb in sectional play.
“We hit a rough spot,” said Bryson Scott. “We had an attitude where we were not really prepared and were getting our heads just too hype going into February. That was one of the best things that happened to us, to be honest. It got us back together as a team, back bonding with each other.”
Coolman said his team has had sights on this postseason ever since they were eliminated by Homestead on March 10 in last year's regional. There have been struggles and games that Northrop has let get away.
But not now. This is the last go-around for this group of Bruins, and they are playing like it.