By MIKE BLATT Kokomo Tribune
---- — Northwestern’s boys basketball team, playing its third game in four days, relied on its superior depth to beat county rival Eastern 55-40 in a hard-fought contest Friday night.
The Tigers (9-8, 4-3 Mid-Indiana Conference) celebrated senior night by canning 27 of 38 free throws to pull away from the Comets in the second half. The game was intense from start to finish as Northwestern overcame a first-period deficit to take the lead early in the second stanza. The Tigers never relinquished their advantage, although Eastern stayed close for most of the game.
The victory was especially sweet for Northwestern coach Jim Gish, who was happy his seniors went out on a winning note at home.
“We have seven seniors who have put a lot of a lot of time and dedication in [the program],” he said. “Six of the seven have been with the program from a very young age, and this is a special night for them because they’re about to pursue other things in their life. So anytime you can win on senior night, that’s a special thing for them.”
The Tigers secured a fourth-place finish in the MIC with the win.
Eastern (3-13, 2-4) did its best to spoil the party for the Tigers, but in the end, NW’s experience and bench proved to be the difference.
Comet coach Mike Springer enjoyed the intensity of the game despite being disappointed with the loss.
“It was a very competitive game,” he noted. “Both teams were really getting after it, a lot of intensity, a lot of excitement and enthusiasm. Both teams fought hard defensively.
“When the ball went up to the basket, there was bodies blocking out right and left on both sides. Northwestern hit some free throws toward the end that really put them ahead. But I am really proud of our kids for competing for 32 minutes.”
While the Tigers ran out to an early 8-2 lead behind senior Logan Galbraith’s six points, Eastern answered with an 11-0 run to take a 13-8 lead. But NW’s Blaine Brutus knocked down a 3-pointer late to narrow it to 13-11 at the first stop.
The Tigers used a 7-0 run to start the second quarter and take the lead for good. They led 20-14 with 3:09 left in the half, but Eastern battled back to make it 21-20 before Jacob Wagner nailed two charity shots with 3.5 seconds left to put NW up 23-20 at intermission.
The third quarter was decisive. Tiger senior Graham Ortmann got things started with a triple, and Wagner followed with a hoop-and-harm to make it 29-20. Comet sophomore Jacob Kinder made two foul shots at the 5:29 mark, and Eastern closed to within six at 31-25 on Braden Gibson’s trey with 3:11 left in the third. But that was as close at the Comets would get. The Tigers got another late triple by Brutus to lead 37-27 heading to the fourth quarter.
After Gibson hit a free throw, Galbraith answered with a bucket off a Wagner assist to make it 39-28 with 6:35 to play. From there, the Tigers made 16 of 22 from the charity stripe to hang on for the win.
Gish said, “Something we have really emphasized is working from the free throw line and understanding that you’re 15 feet away with nobody in your face. It’s extremely important whether it’s the first quarter or the fourth quarter with the game on the line that you hit your free throws.”
In addition to their success shooting freebies, the Tigers made 12 of 26 from the floor, including 4 of 7 from behind the arc.
Galbraith paced NW with 15 points and Ortmann added 12. Eastern was led by Kinder’s 11 points and game-high eight boards.