Northwestern and Western get the Mid-Indiana Conference boys basketball race rolling tonight with a date at Western’s Richard R. Rea Gym.
“We say this every year: You can’t win the conference with this first conference game and you can’t lose it, but you can really put yourself behind the 8-ball,” Western coach Bart Miller said of the game’s importance.
He’s hoping for another electric night between the close Howard County rivals.
“I thought the atmosphere for the [Nov. 27] Western-Kokomo game was outstanding, and I look for the atmosphere to be very similar, if not exact, between the two schools and their student sections,” he said.
Both teams dropped their openers on Nov. 27. Western fell 72-50 at Kokomo and Northwestern lost 52-50 at home to Madison-Grant. Improving has been the emphasis the last week-plus of practice.
“We really need to concentrate on taking care of the basketball,” Northwestern coach Jim Gish said. “We felt like the number of turnovers we had against Madison-Grant put us in a bad position, not only in empty possessions and not getting shots up, but not being able to set our defense and Madison-Grant was able to convert off of our turnovers.”
Western found itself hurt on the glass in its opener.
“We really needed to work on rebounding,” Miller said. “Kokomo had a plus-18 advantage as far as second-chance points. We didn’t rebound, we didn’t block out well. If you don’t take care of rebounding, it’s going to be a long night no matter who you play.”
Neither Western or Northwestern has much size, but the Panthers’ emphasis on the boards will be tested by Northwestern, which typically fields a gritty squad.
Miller called the Purple Tigers “another really good Northwestern ballclub” and said what has his attention is “just the way their whole team, they hustle for every loose ball, every rebound, they’re just relentless in their effort. They’ve got [Graham] Ortmann and [Bliane] Brutus who can knock down outside shots, and Ortmann can get inside, and Brutus can get inside with his penetration.”