BOYNE CITY – Usually it’s the big dunks that ignite a home fan base and get a team going.
But Jack Neer isn’t much of a dunker.
“No,” Neer said with a laugh, shaking his head. “Unfortunately not.”
The six-foot-tall guard for Boyne City’s boys’ basketball team has found another way to start the Rambler gym, which he fully showcased at Boyne’s Lake Michigan Conference meeting with Grayling Thursday in Boyne City.
On multiple occasions against the Vikings, Neer gave the Rambler fanbase and bench something to cheer – or be amazed – about, helping to build a sizable lead in the second half and eventual a 62-48 win. .
Down put a few exclamation points to victory in the final minutes of the game with back-to-back acrobatic layups through and around defenders, leaving everyone who saw them wondering one thing: how?
Believe it or not, he actually practices them.
“I just sit under the rim and tap (the ball) sometimes, decide the spin and what not,” he said.
And he loves it when the ball kisses the top of the glass and gently goes through the net as well as the crowd.
“It feels great,” he added. “It feels great in my stomach, the butterflies are going.”
Neer’s 16-point night for the Ramblers came as one of the few big appearances for the Ramblers, with Jacob Johnson getting Boyne going with a great first half and Alex Calcaterra collecting the Ramblers from the break.
For Boyne City coach Randy Calcaterra, it came down to being smart with the ball. He knows that when the right passes are made, he has the shooters and athletes on the field to make good things happen.
“Balance against their pressure and then patience in our attack,” he said. “We have weapons, only if they are patient and balanced in what we do will they get something.”
The first display of balance from Calcaterra’s line-up came from Neer as the first quarter ended when the junior launched a half-court shot with the buzzer bouncing off the backboard and going inside.
That shot gave Boyne a 10-8 lead after one, then a three-pointer from Boyne’s Gavin Hewitt and a drive from Alex Calcaterra in the second helped build a 19-12 lead at the halfway point.
The Ramblers added all of the second fastest time and kept things in the half in a 10-point game, with a 30-20 lead.
Boyne pushed the lead to 39-22 early in the third quarter as Calcaterra came out of the break with a pair of baskets, as did Johnson and then Neer found Aaron Bess for a corner three, leading to a time-out for grayling.
After a few foul trips for the Vikings, the Ramblers extended their lead to 19 points on a three from Calcaterra, then a shot from Neer below.
“They like to go fast and try to flip it over so they can get the highlight dunks,” Neer said of Grayling. “We just tried to eliminate that, play our game and we did.”
Grayling fought back in the late third and ended the quarter with a 9-0 run to make it 50-38 after three, then got to nine runs in the fourth, before Boyne landed for an 8 -2 close, marked by Neers twisting work under the basket.
“His touch with the ball, his ability to finesse with the right spin is incredible,” said Calcaterra. ‘You can’t learn that. He just has an inherent touch with the ball to get it in.”
Calcaterra finished the game with 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists, Neer had 16 points and seven rebounds and Johnson also added 16 points and six rebounds, impressing Randy Calcaterra on the night.
“If he continues like this, good things are going to happen for this team,” Calcaterra said of Johnson. “By far his best game. We have seen it from him in practice, we expect it from him. He does nothing but show an upward trend.”
Calcaterra also credited Hewitt and Bess with some strong defensive performances in the game.
For Grayling, Dylan Cragg led by 17 points, Caleb Caul scored nine and Ethan Kucharek scored eight.
The win helps the Ramblers recover from their first loss of the season earlier in the week, which came in a 65-64 loss to Elk Rapids, taking them to 5-1 overall on the season and 2-1 in Lake Michigan, still at the top with TC St. Francis and the Elks.
The next step for Boyne City is a visit from Harbor Springs on Tuesday, January 18, as part of a six-game Lake Michigan Conference trajectory for the Ramblers. Next week they will also go to Kalkaska on Thursday 20 January.
Contact sports editor Drew Kochanny at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @DrewKochanny and Instagram, @drewkochanny