Elco’s Austen Davis looks for driving room against the defense of Northern Lebanon’s Richard Iwuagwu during the championship game of the
Elco's Austen Davis looks for driving room against the defense of Northern Lebanon's Richard Iwuagwu during the championship game of the Northern Lebanon Holiday Tournament on Saturday night. Led by 26 points from Sam Light and strong all-around play from tourney MVP Iwuagwu, the Vikings prevailed by a 65-51 score. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS GLEN GRAY)
FREDERICKSBURG - Just exactly when the Northern Lebanon boys' basketball team had last won its own holiday tournament was a matter of some debate late Saturday night.

Vikings' guard Richard Iwuagwu said the team had been told that the year was 1993, when head coach Gary Bouchette was a Northern Lebanon player.

For his part, Bouchette, when questioned, was a bit more coy about the exact date that the Northern Lebanon boys had last enjoyed a truly happy holiday season.

Whenever it was, suffice it to say the Vikings believed it had been plenty long enough.

In a contest that was at times the epitome of the live-by-the-jump-shot die-by-the-jump shot philosophy, the Vikes captured their holiday tourney crown for the first time in - well, it's been a while - by outgunning equally perimeter-happy Elco 65-51 in front of the home folks at Northern Lebanon High School.

Together, the county rivals combined for a staggering 17 3-point baskets, including six in a dizzying first quarter that ended with Northern Lebanon up 19-16.

But eventually the Vikes (6-3) settled down and played solidly in all phases of the game - not just from 3-point territory - and pulled away for the win behind 26 points from electric junior point guard Sam Light, 16 from Isaac Ray, and 12 more on four 3's from unsung hero/tournament MVP Richard Iwuagwu.

"To them, it's big. To them, it's real big," Bouchette said of what Saturday's win meant to his club. "We've always been close with this group, second place quite a few times and couldn't get over the hump. I know it's just a tournament, but to them it's really important.


It's a good win, now we have something to build on going back into section play."

"I'm now aware that we haven't won this tournament since 1993, so it feels really good to win one this year," said Iwuagwu, superb at both ends of the floor against the Raiders. "It was back and forth in the beginning of the first half, and I felt it was a bit too close at halftime, like we weren't giving enough. So we came out fired up the second half.

Northern Lebanon’s Richard Iwuagwu (left) and Isaac Ray battle Elco’s Dustin Miller (3) for a rebound during Saturday night’s
Northern Lebanon's Richard Iwuagwu (left) and Isaac Ray battle Elco's Dustin Miller (3) for a rebound during Saturday night's championship game of the Vikings' holiday tournament. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS GLEN GRAY)

The contest was a little too close for Iwuagwu's liking because now 3-6 Elco, despite being wildly inexperienced, put up quite a fight for a while.

Led by 31 combined points and six 3s from the promising freshman duo of Colton Lawrence (20) and Caleb Buchmoyer (11), the still wildly inexperienced Raiders led by five midway through the first quarter and were very much in the game until the Vikes grabbed a double-digit lead and kept it late in the third.

"The pace was a little bit quicker than what I'd like to see our guys play right now," said Elco coach Brad Conners of the frantic first quarter. "But the last few games we've come out like that and guys have hit shots. As the game progresses, it seems like we wear (out) a little bit. And being as young as we are, I don't think we have that attitude yet for what it takes to come back when we're down."

In Elco's defense, the Vikings didn't make it very easy to rally.

Light was at his creative, attacking best while pouring in his 26 points and getting easy shots for his teammates.

Ray, a sophomore guard/forward, stepped up big to ease the impact of the absence of senior forward Pat Stevens, who sat out after suffering a foot/ankle injury of undetermined severity in Friday's opening-round win against Conestoga Valley.

And Iwuagwu added some tangible production via his four treys to go with his usual defensive dirty work contributions.

Elco’s Robert Shultz blocks the shot of Northern Lebanon’s Sam Light on Saturday night as teammate Caleb Buchmoyer looks on.
Elco's Robert Shultz blocks the shot of Northern Lebanon's Sam Light on Saturday night as teammate Caleb Buchmoyer looks on. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS GLEN GRAY)

"It was real nice," Bouchette, of how the Vikings compensated for Stevens' absence and the fact that its other starting big man, Jonathan Lum, was under the weather. "I thought tonight at times we played together real well. It seemed like we initially had a slow start, but then we started playing well. And I called upon some JV players to step up and play, and they did."

"We all thought there was an opportunity, being that he (Stevens) was out of the game," Conners said. "We thought there might be some good matchups. But Light, he's a tough guard. A tough guard."

But it was team ball that ultimately did the trick for Northern Lebanon, and that was best displayed in the latter half of the third quarter. Moving the ball and playing unselfishly, the Vikes scored eight of the period's last 11 points after Derek Miller dropped in a layup that put Elco still within striking distance down 41-33 at the 5:41 mark.

But from there, the Vikings used two Ray free throws, a Light jumper, a Daymon Long bucket and a Light layup off an inbounds lob pass from Long to finish the period strong and take a 49-36 lead into the fourth.

Iwuagwu then cemented his MVP candidacy and all but assured the Vikings' holiday tournament dry spell was over by burying his fourth '3' of the night with 6:58 left for an insurmountable 54-38 lead.

"You look at Sam's points, and Sam's always gonna score, but Richard just does the little things," Bouchette said, explaining Iwuagwu's MVP selection. "Diving for loose balls, stepping in taking a charge. He's my defensive stopper, he's on the best player every night. He's that quiet leader. I don't think people understand what he means to this team."

For the record, Iwuagwu's MVP vote would have gone to Light, his backcourt partner/close pal.

"I was really surprised when I got the MVP award, I thought it was going to (Light)," Iwuagwu said, grinning. "Because I felt he was our most valuable player. Our offensive production isn't as great without him on the floor.

"It was a shocker, but I just want to stay humble about it. But it's very rewarding."

Just as finally winning their own holiday tournament was for the Vikings.

Notes: Joining Iwuagwu on the all-tournament team were Light, Lawrence, Conestoga Valley's Anthony Brown, and New Covenant big man Nate Dawson. Dawson, a 6-foot-8 center, continued to impress despite New Covenant's 86-45 loss to CV in the consolation game, tallying 23 points and seven blocked shots.