BELLEFONTE — North Star senior Andy Zuchelli knows his main role is to score, and oppositions know this too.
Despite being face-guarded, and sometimes double-teamed, Zuchelli poured in 34 points to lead North Star to a 72-57 victory over Bloomsburg in the PIAA Class AA second-round on Wednesday, giving the Cougars their second straight quarterfinal appearance.
“I was feeling it, so I came out shooting,” Zuchelli said. “I tried to do my best for the team. Overall, we played a heck of a team game today. I’m really glad we’re getting back to where we were last year. It’s so much fun playing in March, and I hope we can keep this going.”
Zuchelli helped North Star get off to a torrid start, as the Cougars got in front early and never trailed. North Star began the first quarter on a 10-1 run. They forced five Bloomsburg turnovers and held the Panthers scoreless on their first seven shots of the game.
The Cougars led 21-11 after one.
After the Panthers opened the second with a basket, Drew Lane scored four straight points. North Star’s lead would not fall below 10 points for the rest of the game.
“We got a really good start,” North Star head coach Randy Schrock said. “We’ve been getting some good starts lately, but sometimes it goes away when we have a little spurt where we lapse, but tonight it didn’t go away. We built on our halftime lead in the third quarter and kept it going in the fourth. Overall, we played solid.”
Just like in the first-round, North Star faced a height disadvantage. Two of Bloomsburg’s starters, Chase Norris and Jack Howell, stand at 6-foot-4.
The Cougars, however, turned in a solid defensive effort, holding the pair to just six combined points.
Lane and Hunter Stevens recorded several rebounds and blocks over the two big men. Stevens also added five steals. Both players finished with double-doubles.
“I felt really confident today,” Stevens said, who totaled 21 points and 11 boards. “I felt good coming into warmups, so I just stuck with it and kept going. I had a good game offensively and defensively ... I know I always say it, but defense is our main focus. Coach really made it a highlight to box out because we knew they were big coming in.”
Lane led the charge on the offensive glass, recording eight of his 13 points by means of second-chance opportunities. In total, the Cougars recorded 18 second-chance points, compared to just six for Bloomsburg.
“I just did the same thing I usually do,” Lane said, who also pulled down 11 rebounds. “I played hard and boxed out the best I could. We played hard and played solid defensively. We know every day we’re going to have offense no matter what, so when our defense steps up, I think we’re almost unbeatable.”
Zuchelli, Stevens and Lane combined to score 68 of North Star’s 72 points. Ethan Yoder added the other four.
The Cougars’ surge of offense continued in the second quarter. Zuchelli hit back-to-back threes and converted an andone to give the Cougars their biggest lead of the game at 39-22.
Bloomsburg clawed back with a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 39-29, but Zuchelli answered with two straight layups through traffic to give North Star a 43-29 advantage at the half.
Zuchelli scored 18 of North Star’s 22 points in the quarter and had 24 at the half.
The Panthers drew two fouls on Zuchelli in the third frame and added a fourth with 5:00 to go in the game. Zuchelli was then subbed in and out, but North Star remained consistent.
“I was a little worried with him sitting with so much time left,” Schrock said. “He always is able to find the open guy and create offense. Our defense responded well. It was outstanding during the second half, especially during this stretch. I know what kind of athletes we have, and they know what they’re capable of. We had a lot of guys contribute on the boards and defensively, we just played great.”
North Star led by 15 after three quarters.
Bloomsburg opened the fourth with a 7-2 run to cut the deficit back to 10 at 63-53, but the Cougars outscored the Panthers 9-4 over the final three minutes to preserve the win.
The Cougars advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals, where they will take on District 12 runner-up Constitution at a site and time to be determined.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” Schrock said. “We know that going forward. We’re going to go out and play as hard as we can, and it’ll be what it’s going to be. We’re going to play hard. That’s what we did last year, and that’s what we’re going to do this year.”
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