A physical basketball game which featured 53 total fouls and 71 free throws boiled down to who could convert from the line on Monday.
In the end, Northwestern made two more free throws and narrowly pulled out a 63-59 home victory over Nation Ford in the teams' Region 3-AAAA opener.
Northwestern was a sizzling 26-of-32 from the foul line, while Nation Ford went 24-of-39.
The Trojans, 10-5 overall and 1-0 in league play, overcame a one-point halftime deficit with a dominating third quarter.
Northwestern went inside to forward Chris Belton, who scored eight of his team-high 17 points in the third, giving the Trojans clear control during that span.
Belton converted an offensive rebound for a 42-29 lead with 3:46 remaining in the quarter.
Trojans forward Labris Adams stole a Falcons pass at midcourt and was fouled while driving in for the layup. He completed the three-point play for a 51-39 Northwestern lead after three quarters.
But momentum did not stay with the Trojans for long. Nation Ford, which entered the game with only nine eligible players, saw two foul out, and another get tossed with two technicals.
Still, the Falcons hung tough and began the fourth quarter with a 7-2 surge to cut the deficit to 52-46 after two free throws from T.J. Everette.
Down by seven, guard Eddie Caldwell swished a 3-pointer, pulling Nation Ford within 55-51 with 3:19 remaining.
Free throws from Trojans forward Drayton Wade and a Labris Adams jumper built the Northwestern lead back to 59-51 at the 1:51 mark. But Nation Ford remained resilient, as Caldwell got to the line twice and connected on four straight.
Guard Sam Hirsch added two more from the line and brought Nation Ford within 61-59 with 39.9 seconds remaining.
Northwestern attempted to burn time off the clock, but the Falcons gave themselves a shot at potential victory. Malcom Brown intercepted a pass, drove the length of the court and found Hirsch for a 3-point attempt.
HIs shot was off the mark, but the Falcons grabbed the rebound. However, a pass to another 3-point shooter went out of bounds with 5.6 seconds remaining.
Northwestern got possession and sealed victory when Matt Wilson sank two foul shots for the 63-59 final.
"I am not disappointed with the way we played at all," Nation Ford coach Artie Moore said. "The guys played hard on every possession. Of course we made mistakes, but we asked them not to back down because Northwestern is an outstanding team."
Trojans coach Mike Gossett said he expected a scrappy Nation Ford team and, therefore, was not surprised by the close contest.
"I told Artie before the game that it was going to be like this. Nation Ford plays hard," Gossett said. "We have to play good defense because we do not have a lot of skilled offensive players. We have to make our free throws and layup attempts, which are the most fundamental things to do offensively."