NEW CARLISLE — Trailing by nine with 30 seconds left in the third quarter, New Prairie had a chance to cut Jimtown's lead to just two possessions after a rough Cougars showing to start the second half.
Backup point guard Tanner Moreno took the ball up court with the mindset of New Prairie holding onto the ball for a half minute to take the last shot of the quarter. As soon as he crossed center court, however, the 5-foot-8 junior was swarmed by a pair of long, athletic Jimmies defenders.
Moreno had to make a decision quick to ensure he wouldn't get trapped and turn the ball over, effectively ruining the Cougars' chances of scoring that possession. He wisely jumped and attempted to pass to forward Braydon Flagg manning the middle of the paint, but Moreno's pass was a touch too soft and a leaping Bill Pawlak stole the ball for Jimtown (4-0, 2-0 Northern Indiana Conference).
Pawlak quickly ran the Jimmies' fast-paced transition offense down the court and stopped just past the 3-point line in the right corner. Due to his four 3-pointers made on the night, the New Prairie defense focused on getting to the corner to stop him.
However, Pawlak saw a wide open Hunter Konrath streaking to the left side of the basket. A slick overhead pass found Konrath just before a trailing Cougars defender could get there for a block, good for a pair of Jimtown points and a double-digit lead heading into the fourth quarter.
All of a sudden, a game that looked like it could be a two-possession contest turned into a four-possession game in less than half a minute. New Prairie's poor third quarter in which it was outscored 13-5 was the difference in its 55-44 loss Friday night.
"That third quarter was really weird for us," New Prairie coach Mike Bauer said. "That's the first time this season we came out of halftime and played poorly. Usually, we come out for the third quarter really clicking. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case tonight and it was the difference between us coming away with a win or a loss."
Not only did the Cougars fall flat for the third quarter, they also ran into a rarely-seen talent in Jimtown's Preston Phillips. The senior point guard measures in at 6-foot-7 — an inch taller than New Prairie's tallest player — and is as quick and shifty as your conventional smaller, athletic point guard.
Phillips made his presence felt in just about every way imaginable against the Cougars, racking up 18 points, eight rebounds, four assists and five steals. It's hard to say which part of his stat line stuck out the most, but his ability to generate second-chance opportunities and play above all the New Prairie players played a large part in the Jimmies victory.
"I mean, it's never easy when you have to go up against a guy like him," Bauer said. "It's not often you see a 6-foot-7, athletic point guard like they have. It's really hard to stop guys like him."
The Cougars aren't a small team by any means, either. Six-foot-4 forward Braydon Flagg has been a force so far this season for New Prairie, and he had yet another solid game. The junior posted 18 points of his own, including a pair of 3-pointers, and didn't miss any of his four free throws. He also nabbed nine rebounds, accounted for a team-leading two assists and came up with a pair of steals.
"Braydon's been a really consistent, solid player for us this year," Bauer said. "It's a nice luxury to have guys like him and Chase (Ketterer) who you can count on game in and game out. They're always going to give us nice performances."
The loss was the Cougars' third in a row. Bauer isn't overly concerned, however, seeing as all three teams they've lost to have been quality opponents.
Bauer and New Prairie (2-3, 0-2) look to put their three-game losing-streak to an end Tuesday night at home against Oregon-Davis.
Jimtown 55, New Prairie 44
Braydon Flagg had 18 points and nine rebounds for the Cougars.