ST. PETERSBURG — In recent years, Northside Christian would have lost a game like Tuesday’s circus act against Countryside.
But the baby steps the Mustangs have taken the past two seasons have matured into grown-up ones this campaign in the form of senior center Kyle Keck and junior guard Jeffrey Golden. They were instrumental in helping the Mustangs pull out a 63-59 victory in a game that featured three technicals, four players fouling out and 52 combined free throws.
The two Mustangs combined for 44 points with Golden scoring a career-high 32 and Keck contributing 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“The best part about this game for us is that it had a playoff atmosphere about it,” Mustangs coach Dave Madasz said. “This is the type of game and tournament that will help us immensely down the road when we play in districts.
“The thing we can draw from this is how we lost the lead after creating a big one and then having the mental toughness to regain it and not relinquish it. It’s big for our confidence.”
After the teams battled in the first half with Northside taking a 29-26 lead into halftime, the Mustangs (7-3) outscored Countryside 15-7 in the third quarter and appeared on the verge of running away with the game.
The Cougars fought back in the fourth and, after Northside starting point guard Joe Chapman and forward Kyle Riffe fouled out, went on a furious 10-0 run to take a 48-47 lead with a little less than four minutes left on a 3-pointer by Andrew Heldon.
That’s when Golden took over. The 5-foot-11 left-handed sharpshooter showed off his ballhandling skills by weaving in and out of the press to get himself open for a 3-pointer to put the Mustangs back ahead. After the Cougars had tied it at 52, Golden put the Mustangs ahead for good when he drew a foul on a drive to the basket then made the free throw.
“It was tough (having two starters foul out) but I just told myself, ‘I have to win this for the team,’ ” said Golden, who went 5-for-8 on 3-pointers and 14-of-17 on free throws. “In the past I wouldn’t have been able to handle this pressure, but playing AAU ball this summer against some pretty tough competition really has prepared me for this season. We’ve come a long way as a team and we’ve learned how to finish these type of games.”
After a Countryside turnover on the Cougars’ next possession, Zach Fossen had his only two points of the game on two key free throws then Golden sank two more free throws after Countryside coach Myron Huey was assessed a technical for taking too long to send in a substitute for a fouled-out player.
In the other semifinal, Palm Harbor University used a 12-0 run over the third and fourth quarters to earn a 45-40 win over Naples Seacrest Country Day. Austin Glaus scored 11 of his team-high 13 for the Hurricanes, who were outscored 10-0 in the first quarter and overcame a 25-15 halftime deficit.
“We weren’t mentally focused to start the game and it showed,” Glaus said. “It was embarrassing, and we came together as a team to get out of it.
“It’s satisfying the way we dealt with the adversity and came out with a win.”
Steven McKellar had 11 points for the Hurricanes.