By Bryan Gaskins
Tribune sports editor
— Northwestern’s boys basketball team saw its chances for the Mid-Indiana Conference championship take a hit last month when it had to forfeit a victory over Maconaquah for a minor rules violation.
The Purple Tigers are still a major player in the conference race.
Northwestern beat league leader Peru 57-55 in overtime Thursday night.
Peru dropped to 5-1 in league play and is followed by Hamilton Heights (4-1). Peru has one league game remaining — against Heights on Feb. 22.
Northwestern is 4-1 on the court in league games, but 3-2 with the forfeit, one of three teams with two loses. Still, the Tigers have a game against Heights on Tuesday, giving the Tigers another chance to make some noise in the race.
Northwestern coach Jim Gish took a look at the big picture when asked about the conference race.
“I think anytime you can get a win against a good team, it feels really good for your kids,” he said. “These are the kind of games we want to play — we want to play against good teams and do things well. It’s why we practice. It’s a lot of fun for your kids to see their hard work pay off.”
Peru coach Jim Metcalfe also looked at the big picture when asked about the conference race.
“It’s in the back of our minds, but we need to focus more on what we need to do to get better as a basketball team because we’re a long way from where we need to be,” he said.
In the OT session, Northwestern (10-6 overall) won the tip and decided to hold the ball out front, hoping to pull Peru out of its effective zone defense. The Purple Tigers held the ball for more than three minutes, but then turned it over at :51.5.
Peru wing Logan Primerano scored on a drive for a 55-53 lead at :32. Graham Ortmann answered for Northwestern, hitting a wing 3-pointer at :16 to give his squad a 56-55 lead.
After Peru (8-8 overall) took a timeout at :07.4, Northwestern forced a 5-second violation on the in-bound play. Trenton Brazel then split a pair of free throws at :06.4 for a 57-55 lead.
Primerano nearly forced another OT. He beat a pack of defenders with the dribble, then attacked the basket in the closing seconds — but Northwestern post Chase Johnson blocked his path and attempted to take a charge. Primerano crashed into Johnson and put up a shot. There was no call and the shot rolled off the rim as time expired.
The OT session capped a back-and-forth game. Peru jumped to a 6-0 lead, but it was tied 8-8 at the end of a sloppy first quarter that saw the teams combine for 14 turnovers. The second quarter featured good action as the teams battled through six lead changes and five ties. Peru owned a 26-24 lead when the dust settled.
Peru seemed in control with a 34-27 advantage at 2:31 of the third quarter, but Northwestern followed with a quick 5-0 run to keep contact.
“We had a seven-point lead and had the ball and turned it over three straight possessions,” Metcalfe lamented. “A lot of it wasn’t necessarily what they did, we just got sped up and started making silly mistakes with the basketball and got careless. ... We shot ourselves in the foot and the whole complexion of the game changed.”
Peru took a 38-34 lead into the fourth quarter. Northwestern saw its first three possessions of the quarter end in turnovers, but Peru failed to take advantage. The Purple Tigers then rattled off a 14-4 run to take a 48-42 lead at 2:02.
Ortmann and Brazel highlighted the run with back-to-back 3-pointers, but Jacob Wagner keyed the run. He ignited it with a baseline jumper and also had three assists and a steal.
“Jacob Wagner has been very consistent for us,” Gish said. “He is never going to be real flashy, but as a sophomore point guard, he’s doing a really nice job of taking care of the basketball. Now that he’s starting to understand the varsity speed, he’s really doing a nice job of getting the basketball where it needs to be and with the timing.”
Primerano brought Peru back from the 48-42 hole. He hit a 3-pointer at 1:29 to bring the Bengals within 48-45, hit another 3-pointer at :32 to bring his squad within 51-50, then had a traditional three-point play off a nice drive to the hoop at :19.5 to knot the score at 53-all. From there, the game went to overtime.
Primerano finished with a game-high 23 points.
Brazel led the winners with 17 points. He shook off cold shooting over the first three quarters to score 11 points over the fourth quarter and OT. Ortmann followed with 15 points on five 3-pointers and Johnson had 14 points. Brazel and Johnson each had eight rebounds.
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