Jonah Hopper shoots mid-range jump shot over Trey Hart (1) and Chandler Sievers (4).

WHITE HALL - North Greene head coach Brett Berry knew it was inevitable that opposing teams not only would be hell-bent at taking away his two go-to-guys Jonah and Josh Hopper but at some point, someone would do enough to limit both.

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Enter the Calhoun Warriors.

With the Spartans leading the Calhoun 27-23 at halftime the Warriors limited Josh to two points while Jonah still managed 17. However, with Calhoun running a 1-3-1 defense, it made it difficult to pound the ball inside but presented the Spartans an opportunity to beat the Warriors from the outside, and they took full advantage of it.

“One of the things we talked about was guys are going to work hard to take away Josh and Jonah. They run that 1-3-1 and they’re very good at it because they take away a lot of passing lanes,” Berry said.

Jonah Hopper, Brett Whicker, and Zion Thomas dialed up from long-distance and rained in three-pointers to get out to a 9-0 run, which sparked a big second half for North Greene as they ran away from Calhoun 65-48 in the semifinals of the Spartan Classic on Wednesday in White Hall.

The three-point shot was North Greene’s friend as the Spartans tallied ten for the game. Those open long-range shots was a gamble Calhoun took to deny the Hopper twins access in the paint where they’re especially effective.

“With our different zone schemes that we ran that’s what we’re looking for. They’re going to have to step up and hit shots and they did. Honestly, that was the difference in the ballgame,” Calhoun head coach Ryan Graner said.

Jonah Hopper poured in 26 points, including four three-pointers and it’s now the third-straight game he’s scored over 20.

“Right off the bat I hit a three and I was timid to shoot the ball so I ended up missing a couple there, but then I got back into a groove. Whenever they want to take the three away I guess I can just set myself inside and get points there too,” Hopper said. “The whole team ended up making shots and I’m very happy about that. That’s what we’ve been doing these past [few] games and that’s what we need to continue to do.”

“He hit a couple early then rushed a few and all of sudden he took a few out of rhythm. Then he settled down,” Berry said. “We talked a little bit about [Jonah] getting inside, and he’s settling for too much outside on the perimeter against that zone, attack and get to the rim.”

Josh Hopper scored ten of his 12 points in the second half while Thomas followed with 11, Whicker chipped in nine, which all came on three’s. Whicker is the Spartans spark plug when it comes to defense and getting out in transition, but last night he showed he’s more than capable of knocking down treys.

“He showed that piece of his game this summer. Last year, Brett was a great player for us athletically. Great energy guy, but it was spattered here and there offensively,” Berry said. “This year he’s proven that he’s a guy that can score. He’s looked really good throughout the preseason and tonight he came out and did the things we expected him to do.”

In the first 99 seconds of the game North Greene got out to an 8-0 lead and it looked like Calhoun would be in for a long night having to play catch-up. However, it didn’t take the Warriors long as they went on a 9-0 run of their own to momentarily take the lead, but a three from Thomas and a bucket by Josh Hopper got the Spartans lead back to 13-10.

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High-tempo play dominated the second quarter.

Calhoun successfully drove to the basket and got Josh Hopper and Blake Dean in foul trouble. Drew Baalman and freshman Corey Nelson made 5-of-7 free throw shots to stay with North Greene. Warrior guard Ty Bick pulled off an excellent assist for a Blake Schumann layup and then on the next possession he gave Calhoun their last lead of the game at 22-20 on a long-two point shot.

Corey Nelson driving by Josh Hopper.

With time winding down, Carter Hosemen collected a rebound off a Baalman miss. He then passed it to Whicker at half-court then he hurriedly lobbed the ball to Justin Lawson near the basket, who managed to get the shot off in time and scored just as the buzzer sounded to complete an incredible play.

“Our guys feed off of emotion, and it’s nice to that out of them because usually, they’re low-key guys. Justin Lawson made a heck of a play, and I was proud of him,” Berry said. We were hot early and then we cooled off, and it frustrated us. We weren’t running the defense that we liked to run and once that happens frustration kicks in, and guys get grumpy, but in the second half, we executed a beautiful game plan. I thought our defense came out in the second half and changed the game.”

When North Greene was scoring from every direction, their half-court trap defense caused several turnovers and off-balanced shots for Calhoun. Despite all that, Baalman scored ten of his 19 points in the third quarter. Nelson followed with 13 in the game.

“Offensively we are a major work in progress,” Graner said. “We got guys playing in new positions and obviously trying to incorporate some new philosophies. We got a ways to go. That kind of length bothered us, especially in the third quarter.”

The Spartans started the fourth quarter on a 10-0 run and built their biggest lead of the game at 59-36.

Calhoun falls to 2-1 and will face the loser of the Brown County or Western at 6:30 p.m. on Friday night. Despite the rough second half, Graner was pleased with players effort and believes they learned more than just lost given the talent of their opposition.

“For being our third game of the year going up against team this highly touted as North Greene I can’t really complain. Our effort was good and like I said there are so many new team mistakes with four new starters,” Graner said.” This is a learning experience and nights like tonight are only going to make us better in the long run.”

The Spartans improve to 4-0 and will play the winner of Brown County or Western on Friday night at 8:00 p.m. If they win on Friday then North Greene will be the first school to not only repeat as champions but to be the first to win it multiple times in the nine years of the tournament’s history.

“Nobody’s won this tournament twice,” Berry said smiling. “There’s been a new champion every year, and we told the boys this is the year we want to try and repeat.”

Chandler Sievers attempts a layup, while Zion Thomas tries to block it.

Blake Dean defending Ty Bick.

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