NEW BUFFALO — The New Buffalo High School varsity boys basketball team passed its first test of the 2018-19 season thanks to a strong second half showing.

The host Bison overcame a seven-point half-time deficit to knock off River Valley 59-56 on Friday, Nov. 30.

Nate Tripp won his first game as varsity coach, leading a team filled with new players including two freshmen.

“I honestly didn’t know what to expect coming into this year. I know we have some talent, we have some shooting. But they’re so young and it’s a brand-new team so how are they going to mesh and are they going to be able to keep it together in a difficult game?

“I couldn’t be more proud of them — they battled.”

The Mustangs, 1-0 after a Nov. 26 victory against White Pigeon, built an early 6-3 lead as Matthew Schmidt tallied five points. New Buffalo leap-frogged on top 10-8 thanks to scores from Colin Bendiner, Kaden Parmley and Tucker Morse (a three-pointer).

River Valley roared back with consecutive treys by Schmidt and two straight buckets from Davyd Bronson opening up an 18-11 advantage early in the second stanza. The Mustangs maintained a seven-point margin at the end of the first half (31-24) as Tylar Montgomery sank a “3” and Lennon Lange cashed in a late offensive rebound for two points.

The Bison caught up early in the third frame (at 33-all) thanks to a pair of Ben O’Donnell field goals and Parmley’s three-pointer.

O’Donnell’s three-point play later pushed the home team on top 36-35, but River Valley took the lead back as Josh CLark and Lange scored.

Morse powered New Buffalo into the final quarter with a 43-39 margin thanks to a pair of baskets.

The momentum continued throughout the final period with makes by Morse, Brennan Grott ( three-pointer), and O’Donnell (another three-point play) leaving the score 52-46. O’Donnell, New Buffalo’s lone senior, hit another shot and then sank a “3” to make it 57-51 with 3:29 remaining in regulation.

The Mustangs made one last bid to recapture the lead, with Lange’s three-point bucket at the 1:50 mark cutting the lead down to a single point (57-56).

The Bison proceeded to run the clock all the way down to 13 seconds before O’Donnell fired a pass to a wide open Grott, who dropped it in for a 59-56 advantage that would hold up as the final margin.

 “I was trying to run around the court and just get open and run the clock, and Ben found me wide open, and I just made the lay-up,” Grott said.

O’Donnell, the team’s lone senior, praised the proverbial “sixth man.”

“Definitely got to give a lot of credit to the crowd. I haven’t seen them turn out like this for a while, especially the student section,” he said.

Morse led a balanced New Buffalo attack with 16 points. O”Donnell scored 15 points while Grott and Parmley tallied 13 points apiece.

Schmidt and Lange paced the Mustangs, each with 13 points. Montgomery had 9 points and Bronson scored 8.

Tripp said the Bison became stagnant on offense in first half and didn’t look for senior Ben O’Donnell in the post.

“That was our key at half-time — let’s run everything out of the post,” he said.

Morse agreed.

“Once we started feeding the post in the second half that’s what really made a difference.”

River Valley coach Jason Heckathorn gave credit to New Buffalo for playing good defense and putting the Mustangs in spots where they weren’t comfortable.

The junior varsity game went to overtime before the host Bison prevailed 52-51.

A bank shot off the glass by Patrick Driscoll with 23 seconds left in OTprovided the one-point margin for New Buffalo.

River Valley’s Jagger Wolnik scored in the paint to put his team up 51-50 at the 1:14 mark. He finished with 26 points.

Markvell Shaw scored five of New Buffalo’s seven points in the extra session and totaled 26 for the game.

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