South Pointe had its share of heartbreaks early in the season, which was reflected by a record that was four games under .500 going into the holiday break.
But instead of sulking in frustration, Stallions coach Melvin Watson just looked forward to the second semester, which welcomed the return of 6-foot-5 forward P.J. Heath, who brought much-needed size to the interior.
Sure enough, the Stallions responded to Heath's return with a stellar defensive effort and outlasted Northwestern 45-42 in the final non-region tune-up at Northwestern's gymnasium.
Heath brought plenty of energy on both ends of the court, chipping in seven points and leading a solid South Pointe effort on the glass.
"What (Heath's return) does is to open up a lot of things for us for our perimeter guys," Watson said. "When we get guys on the inside scoring a few baskets, then all of a sudden, teams will have to start paying attention to them and that allows our guards to get better looks.
"It also helped us tremendously on the backboards; we were much better tonight with rebounding."
Northwestern coach Mike Gossett agreed, saying South Pointe's speed was the difference in the outcome.
South Pointe "was quicker to the ball and played a little better than we did," Gossett said. "I told our guys that this will be one of the quicker teams that we will play this year. My hat goes off to them for a good job.
"We are now 0-0 with a fresh season as the region starts up on Monday."
The defensive battle resulted in several ties and lead changes.
Northwestern held a 25-21 lead at the half, but South Pointe opened the third quarter with plenty of energy as a 10-2 surge resulted in a 31-27 lead. Jhantae McMillan and Manzi Hill scored consecutive hoops to pull the Trojans even, 31-31.
However, Stallions guard Manzi Miller stole a pass and drove the length of the court for a layup, giving South Pointe a 33-31 edge after three quarters.
Northwestern did bounce back to grab a three-point lead when Keenan Orr drained a 3-pointer and Rontavious McClure scored on a putback. The Stallions hung tough as Tyreece Brice drove into the lane for a layup with 2:54 remaining.
Xavier Williams picked off a steal and was able to split two Trojans defenders for a layup. On the next Stallions possession, Miller threw a alley-oop pass to Anthony Johnson for a 43-40 edge with 1:48 remaining.
After the clock wound within a minute, McClure grabbed a Trojans missed shot and scored inside to trim the deficit to one, 43-42, with 45.9 seconds remaining.
Following a timeout, Northwestern picked up a steal but was unable to convert the layin. Still, the Trojans maintained possession. However, traveling was whistled with 23.9 seconds remaining as South Pointe regained the ball.
Miller was fouled and sank two free-throw attempts with nine seconds remaining. Northwestern only needed a 3-point jumper on its final possession with three seconds remaining to force overtime. However, Hill's desperation shot from half court was off target.
South Pointe 45, Northwestern 42
South Pointe -- Manzy Miller 6, Cody Blake 3, Devin Pearson 2, Xavier Williams 6, Gerald Nabritt 2, PJ Heath 7, Tyreece Brice 8, Anthony Johnson 4, Jamil Simpson 5, Isiah Rodney 2.
Northwestern -- Keith Bell 8, Jhantae McMillan 2, Keenan Orr 7, Rontavious McClure 14, Mustafa Love 1, Manzi Hill 10.
3-pointers -- South Pointe 1 (Jamil Simpson 1), Northwestern 1 (Orr 1). Team fouls -- South Pointe 15, Northwestern 19. Fouled out -- None.
Records: South Pointe 4-8; Northwestern 9-5.