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Norse survive late rally to down Panthers

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

WABASH – Two quarters defined Saturday’s afternoon tilt between the Northfield and Eastbrook boys’ basketball teams. In the second quarter, the Norse dominated, outscoring the Panthers 27-12. That margin proved enough for the hosts to withstand a fourth-quarter rally from Eastbrook to hang on for a 62-55 victory.

“The kids battled. The kids didn’t give up,” Panther head coach Greg Allison said. “We outscored them by 10 in the fourth quarter. Really, I think the quarter that hurt us the most was the second quarter. They outscored 15 in that quarter to give us a deficit. But, I’m proud of the way we competed. We were down 17 going into the fourth and had opportunities at the end. So, I’m proud of the way we competed. We just have to clean up some things in the second quarter that kind of dug us the hole.”

Eastbrook entered the fourth facing a 17-point deficit but quickly began chipping away at the lead, using an 8-2 run in the opening minutes to pull within 11 at 54-43 with Alex Baker responsible for five of the points. A three-point play from Logan Peas stemmed the tide but Eastbrook kept coming, pulling with single digits at 57-48 after a pair of Dylan Bragg freebies.

Tomlinson would knock down a turn around jumper but Eastbrook scored the next seven points in response. After two more free throws from Zeke Binkerd, Garrett Holder three-pointer with 1:34 left pulled Eastbrook within six at 59-53.

A quick Norse turnover led to a Bragg layup with 1:17 left to cut the deficit down to 59-55. Northfield would eventually go to the line with the Panthers forced to foul, but Nate Drancik would miss the front-end of a one-and-one with 46.6 seconds left.

Eastbrook had numerous attempts at the rim but couldn’t convert before the Norse eventually corralled the rebound and headed back to the line with 29.2 seconds left. Drancik would knock down both to push the advantage to 61-55 and Eastbrook would again fail to score on the offensive end as Northfield held on for the win.

“We just played with more energy,” Allison said of the fourth. “We did a better job of getting out to shooters. Northfield’s got a lot of kids that can shoot the ball. So, we didn’t do a good job of that early. Giving up 27 points in a quarter is too many. We just gave them too much there. I think we did a better job defensively in the fourth quarter. I just told those guys in (the locker room) that our margin for error is pretty slim. But I think our energy just picked up in the fourth.”

For Northfield and head coach Rick Brewer, a consistent defensive effort helped overcome the highs and lows on the offensive end.

“I thought defensively we were really good today,” Brewer said. “I think we had us for 16 steals on the day so that means in the our last three games now we have 50 combined steals. We’re slowly figuring out how to defend a little bit. I thought in a game like today, the defense is what won you the game because your offense was just adequate.”

The game opened with back-and-forth scoring in the first period as the two sides were tied at 13-13 after one. But in their first game without starter and leading rebounder Bryce Schamber, who is out with a concussion, the Norse took advantage of a sloppy Panther defense.

A Peas three-pointer, a layup from Graydon Holmes and back-to-back baskets from Clayton Tomlinson gave the hosts a 22-16 lead. Holmes answered a Bragg free throw with a three-pointer before three-pointers from Logan and Jared Peas extended the lead to double digits at 31-21. Tomlinson added a three-pointer of his own before another string of six-straight points after a Bragg free throw pushed Northfield ahead 40-22.

Holder would connect on a three-pointer just ahead of the second quarter buzzer but the Norse went into the locker room leading by 15 points at 40-25. That margin grew incrementally in the third as Northfield won the period 12-10 to lead 52-35 heading into the fourth.

But on top of a sloppy offense in the fourth that produced just 10 points, the inexperienced Norse struggled to close out the win strong.

“Offensively, we had 15 turnovers on the night and six of them came in that fourth quarter,” Brewer said. “I thought all of them were good passes, they were just not executed properly. We’re still at the point where we’re trying to learn how to win. That’s just where we’re at in our program.

“I was hoping it wasn’t going to end up like Rochester where we had a five- or six-point lead and couldn’t figure out how to close it. That’s where we’re at. We’ll eventually figure that out.”

Baker and Bragg combined to tie for game-high honors with 16 points while Holder had 10 for Eastbrook. Northfield was led by Tomlinson and Holmes with 14 points apiece. Logan Peas finished with 13 and Jared Peas added 10.

After a 1-9 start to the season, Saturday’s win is the fourth in the last six games for the Norse. The difference for Brewer’s side has been on the defensive end.

“We really talked at the Tri-Central game, I said ‘You’ve really got to commit to playing defense the way I want to play. And if you do that, eventually your offense will catch up,’” he said. “We shoot a high percentage. It’s just sometimes it’s so inconsistent. We may shoot 40 percent in a game but we may shoot 70 percent in a quarter and 20 the next. That’s not the consistency you want and if we ever find that, I think we can be a consistent 60-, 65-point team.

Both sides will be back in action on the road on Wednesday as Northfield (5-11) travels to Manchester and Eastbrook (2-13) heads to Bluffton.