BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — FRANKFORT — Northwestern’s boys basketball team walked out of Case Arena with something tangible, and something intangible Tuesday night.
The tangible was a loss, the third to start the season.
The intangible was the knowledge that the Purple Tigers would fight when they had to, even against an opponent that looked superior from the onset. That intangible may turn into some tangible victories down the road.
“We haven’t had the start to the season that we wanted and you always wonder what the psyche of your kids is, and I thought they showed they’re going to battle you,” NW coach Jim Gish said after his squad’s 80-71 loss to Frankfort. “It doesn’t matter who you are, or where they are, they’re going to battle.”
The Hot Dogs bulled their way to a 17-8 lead at the end of the first quarter and looked capable of building on that lead thanks to their size, athleticism, and hunger to get rebounds. The Dogs took five offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone, while Northwestern had four rebounds total.
Northwestern got tighter on defense and on the glass in the second quarter and turned the game its way. Northwestern went on a 13-0 run in the second quarter with five points from Graham Ortmann, four from Blaine Brutus and four from Tyler Hudson to take a 26-23 lead. The Purple Tigers led 31-30 at the halftime break.
Frankfort (4-1) took the lead almost instantly in the third quarter on a steal and dunk from forward Isaac Rudd, then a triple by Rudd 20 seconds later to trigger a Northwestern timeout just 43 seconds into the quarter. Northwestern challenged repeatedly but Frankfort never let the Tigers tie again.
Frankfort went into the fourth quarter up 50-43 and got another spark to start the fourth when Christian Smith scored inside and got fouled. He missed the freebie but Rudd snagged the rebound and scored, then Brody Kirby got a 3-pointer to cap a 7-0 run in the first 40 seconds of the final frame.
Northwestern pulled to five points down twice but turnovers consistently hurt the Tigers’ chances to get closer. Northwestern finished with 19 turnovers.
“I thought we slowed down a little bit, we played stronger and we executed what we were supposed to be doing,” Frankfort coach Tom Weeks said of his team’s change after halftime. “We made plays, we weren’t settling for deep 3s, we were attacking the basket. We were able to get to the line — though we didn’t make many of them [20 of 34]. And our defensive pressure picked up a little bit.”
Wing player Ortmann led Northwestern with 22 points. Keagan Downey added 13 inside and guard Brutus scored a dozen.
Frankfort’s 6-3 post player Christian Smith scored 19, burly guard Kirby had 18 and Rudd 14.
Gish said turnover troubles and the time it took to adjust to the physical nature of play put the Tigers in a bad situation early on.
“We knew if [the referees] let the game be physical that it’d be a tough night,” Gish said. “They were able to get hands on us and that makes it a little challenging. The first-quarter physicality of the game took us out of what we wanted to do, however we were able to recover.
“We had a couple good looks there [in the fourth quarter] that didn’t go down for us, but that’s just part of the game. Frankfort’s got a really nice club. They’re not going to see too many marks in the L column this year, and our kids battled them on their home turf til the end.”