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Watching Niles North play basketball, your eyes can deceive you. In the pregame layup line, the Vikings look like every other squad, shooting jumpers and practicing their bounce passes. But when the game tips off, Niles North more closely resembles a 4X100 track team than one that shoots hoops.
The Vikings have as much speed as anybody in the state, and use it on both ends of the floor. In the quarterfinals of the Wheeling Classic, Niles North blitzed Loyola from the start, forcing 13 turnovers in the first half with their pressure man-to-man defense taking control of the game en route to a 64-49 victory on Thursday evening.
“We’re fast and we wanted the game more,” said guard Malachi Nix, who finished with a game-high 20 points. “We definitely can use our speed and quickness to our advantage. It’s really all about defense, and we lock down every single possession.”
Nix is the catalyst of the 25th-ranked Vikings attack, both offensively and defensively, and his aggressive play set the tone early on. In the game’s opening minutes, the senior pick-pocketed a Rambler ballhandler for an easy steal, forced an errant pass out of bounds, swished a three-pointer and made a pair of impressive passes to set up two other Niles North baskets. Nix then put the exclamation point on at the end of the first quarter, sinking a three at the buzzer to give his team a 20-7 lead heading into the second.
“I’ve been trying to add outside shooting more to my game,” Nix said. “Off the dribble, coming off screens, all different types of ways to get open and score.”
Niles North improved to 9-2 on the season. They will face St. Viator in the tournament semifinals on Saturday night.
Loyola made a nice run down the stretch, but were never able to cut the lead to less than 15. The Ramblers (7-5) were led in scoring by Jack Morrissey, who had 17 points.