North Central College used an 11-4 second-half spurt to pull away from a 35-35 tie and the Cardinals maintained the lead down the stretch to defeat Bridgewater College, 60-51, on the opening night of the annual Don Glick Classic at Nininger Hall.
North Central (4-2) returned three starters from last season's Final Four team and the Cardinals were ranked No. 6 in the D3hoops.com preseason Top 25. The Eagles went toe-to-toe with the Cardinals for most of the game, but a seven-minute dry spell in the second-half allowed North Central to pull away for the victory.
"Defensively we're doing a good job," Bridgewater head coach Don Burgess said. "We have to score the basketball. That's what it comes down to. "North Central is a very good, veteran team that's been to the Big Dance," Burgess continued. "They made shots when they needed to make shots. That's what good teams do."
Bridgewater (3-3) scored the game's first points on a 3-pointer by Ronnie Thomas, but the Cardinals answered with the next eight points. Jack Burchett scored the first five points for North Central and Evan Fendley knocked down a 3-pointer for an 8-3 Cardinals lead.
The Eagles then reeled off the next six points to regain the lead. Layups by Thomas and Zach Hunter and an inside bucket by Romie Powell put the Eagles on top 9-8.
After a layup by North Central's Brandon Williams, Aaron Adams hit two foul shots for an 11-10 Bridgewater lead. Burchett powered inside and converted a three-point play before a driving layup by Tavis Stapleton tied the score at 13-13.
The Cardinals then hit the Eagles with a 9-2 run to take a 22-15 lead. All-American Landon Gamble worked the paint for a bucket and Pat Rourke knocked down a pair of jumpers, one from 3-point range to spark the North Central run.
The visitors took their biggest lead of the first half, on a layup by David Robinson with 50 seconds left in the half, giving the Cardinals a 31-21 lead at the break.
Bridgewater put together its best stretch of the game to start the second half by outscoring North Central, 14-4 to tie the score.
Bridgewater's Daniel McClain and Gamble traded hoops to open the half before two buckets by Stapleton and a layup by Matthew Hunter trimmed the North Central lead to 33-29.
Burchett worked the paint for a bucket before a 6-0 Bridgewater spurt tied the score. Stapleton hit two foul shots and Adams added 1-of-2 at the line to cut the margin to three. Thomas then knocked down a 3-pointer, knotting the score at 35-35 with 13:37 left to play.
A bucket by Kevin Honn gave North Central the lead for good. After a layup by Rourke pushed the margin to four, Ed Reddick hit a baseline jumper for the Eagles, making the score 39-37 with 9:49 left in the game.
The Eagles made just one shot from the floor over the next seven minutes and the cold stretch allowed the Cardinals to open up a 12-point, 52-40 lead with just 2:15 left to play.
Thomas hit 6-of-11 shots and led the Eagles with 14 points. Stapleton chipped in with 12. Burchett filled up the stat sheet for North Central, finishing with 14 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Honn also reached double figures with 10 points.
The Eagles shot just 40.4 percent from the floor while the Cardinals made 44.2 percent of their shots. Burchett led the visitors to a 35-28 advantage on the boards. Reddick grabbed six rebounds for the Eagles.
In Friday's first game, Eastern Mennonite ran away from Virginia Intermont in the second half to post an 85-56 victory. David Falk led the Royals with 20 points and 15 rebounds.
Saturday afternoon, EMU plays North Central at 2 p.m. followed by the Bridgewater-Virginia Intermont game at 4 p.m.