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FORT WAYNE — A three-team tie just became two for first-place in Northeast Hoosier Conference.
Two undefeated teams in the NHC came together Friday night with a top heavy senior Homestead (8-4, 3-0 NHC) hosting a young Columbia City (7-3, 2-1 NHC) squad.
The experience paid off for the Spartans taking an early first quarter lead and grabbing a wire-to-wire win 62-48.
“Tonight, their guys just knocked down shots,” Columbia City head coach Chris Benedict said. “We do some really good things in spurts but we’ve just got to do them for longer periods of time if you want to play against really good teams.
“If you don’t do those things, senior-laden teams are going to make you pay and that’s what they did tonight.”
Homestead used a number of seniors in double figure on the night. Three of the Spartans’ top scorers were part of a six-man senior class that helped score all but 14 of Homestead’s points.
Each shot better than 50 percent from the field led by Drew Sery’s team-high 15 points.
From the outset, Sery showed his impact on the night scoring the game’s first bucket.
After Columbia City ended a five-minute scoring drought to start the game, Homestead went into the second quarter with a 12-4 lead.
Again, Sery was at the front of the Spartans surge for a double digit lead. With the Eagles closing the gap to within four points, 14-10, Sery scored the next eight Homestead points including two three-pointers.
Columbia City replied with 3:20 left in the half. Leading scorer on the night, Drew Benedict hit back-to-back three-pointers in an eight-point run for the Eagle sophomore.
A lone sophomore sent Homestead into the locker room with the last word.
The Eagles closed the lead to its smallest margin 25-22 when Nick Gamble took it upon himself.
Getting the last five points of the half, Gamble hit the final three at the buzzer on a running three-point bucket from just inside the half court line.
“That’s a big momentum swing,” Benedict noted. “One time we cut it to five and I look up and the next time I look up we’re down by 10.”
It didn’t happen once but twice to the Eagles.
Despite a poor shooting quarter, Homestead managed to outscore Columbia City in the third quarter 14-12 with the help of a Joe Olivieri three-pointer at the buzzer.
The Spartans 47 percent shooting night from the perimeter all came back to Gamble and shots set up by his penetration.
“Gamble is a really good penetrator,” Benedict stated. “We need five guys trying to keep him out of the lane, not just one. When he gets it that deep it just creates a rhythm shot for guys like Sery and Olivieri.”
Gamble had five assists to go along with 14 points.
Leading 44-34 after Olivieri’s buzzer beater, Homestead only widened its lead in the fourth quarter. The Spartan lead grew to as much as 22 points for a moment.
Homestead used eight three-pointers to balance out a inside-out offense. The Spartans shot 58 percent from the field also outrebounding Columbia City 21-15.
“It’s a learning experience for us,” Benedict noted of his Eagles who finished shooting 17-for-41 from the field. “They did a good job on the defensive end to make it hard for us to get really good looks.
“They created a lot of easy shots for themselves and we didn’t.”
The race atop the NHC leaves Columbia City one game back of both Homestead and Norwell, who also was a winner Friday night over 67-36.