BY PEDRO VELAZCO
Northwestern’s boys basketball squad faced a steep learning curve at the start of this season. The Tigers had a couple starters back and a whole lot of new faces.
So far, the Tigers are in full sprint and gaining ground quickly.
Northwestern is 2-0 on the season with a pair of double-overtime wins over Madison-Grant and Tri-Central.
“I’m just really impressed with their guts,” NW coach Jim Gish said. “You’ve got to give all the credit to the kids [and] the senior leadership that we have. They have a real drive to never quit and they put themselves in position at the end of the game to pull it out. Fortunately we’ve had some kids that have really stepped up. We’ve had four or five guys do different things to send our games into overtime or give us a win.
“With an inexperienced team, obviously you want to get off to a good start so they know the things that we do [in practice] work. It’s just real fortunate that we have been able to pull those games out and see that the hard work they’ve dedicated themselves to pays dividends when the lights come on on those evening games.”
The next test for Northwestern is Mid-Indiana Conference rival Western, which is 0-1 after a loss to Kokomo. The teams meet tonight at Northwestern in the league opener for both.
When looking at Northwestern’s early success, first-year Western Bart Miller noted the efforts of “Trenton Brazel and Chase Johnson, their two main returners, seasoned veterans, very good inside and out. Especially Brazel can take you outside or go inside and do damage to you.
“As far as their newcomers go, they’re kind of like us. They’re learning as they’re going on. They’ve got two games under their belt, both going to double overtime, so they’ve been in the thick of the fire.”
Against Kokomo, Western found itself hurt on the boards. To get in position to win tonight, the Panthers will have to solve a couple problem areas.
“We’ve got to do a better job of handling the ball — 13 turnovers in the first game against Kokomo,” Miller said. “We need to do a better job rebounding. We got outrebounded by 16 by Kokomo. We really need to take care of the ball and rebound a lot better than we did.”
Evan Warden led the Panthers with a dozen points against Kokomo.
“I know that everything starts with Evan Warden at the point,” Gish said. “He’s a really nice ballhandler, a really nice guard. I believe he’s a triple threat: He has the ability to finish at the rim; has a nice pull-up game; and shoots the 3-pointer with consistency. They have another couple nice shooters with [Des] Balentine and [Austin] Weaver. Ronnie Smith in the middle gives them a force inside. They have a really nice role player in [Austin] Townsend who works and rebounds the ball well.
“Defensively, we’ve got to keep up the tenacity we’ve shown, the ability to protect the rim. The ability to keep people in front of us will be huge. It’s vital that we can defend without providing a lot of help because of their shooters, they can make things difficult on you. And we have to rebound the basketball.”
On Saturday, Western hosts Lebanon (1-0 heading into the weekend).
Taylor (0-1) at Tri-Central (0-2)
The Titans will try to rebound from a season-opening loss to Frankton as they visit guard-dominated Tri-Central. The Trojans lost to Tipton to open the season, and dropped a double-overtime decision to Northwestern.
“They like to put themselves in a position where they’re playing to their strengths in perimeter play and get some other kids going off the dribble,” Taylor coach Andy Lewman said of what his team has to guard against when facing TC.
“I think the [Kolby] Thomas kid is a very nice player. He’s going to score some points and it’s a matter of how well you contain him and keep him from getting a whole bunch of points at one time.”
Lewman said Thomas did that last year so he wants the Titans to force him out of his comfort zone and make other players carry a larger load.
As for the Titans, Lewman hopes to see better decisions if the game is close at the end, and better rebounding. Those were Taylor’s main shortcomings in its opener.
“The key thing that jumped out to me at the end of the game last week was we gave up 13 offensive rebounds,” he said. “If we don’t block out any better than we did the other night it’s going to be a tough game to win. If we block out and take care of some things on the defensive backboards, I think some good things can happen for us.”
Taylor plays at Oak Hill Saturday.
Fishers (1-1) at Kokomo (2-0), Saturday
The Wildkats have today off and host Fishers Saturday, a day after the Tigers take on Brownsburg.
“They’re a very good basketball team,” Kokomo coach Brian McCauley said. “They’ve played a really tough schedule thus far with Hamilton Southeastern on the road [a loss] and then they came home, they beat a very good Terre Haute North team. [Fishers is] very athletic, very skilled offensively.
“Jaylon Brown is one of their top seniors, probably one of the best athletes we’ll face all season, one of the best athletes in the state. He has explosive jumping ability, he can shoot, drive, rebound.”
Brown, a combo guard, is an Evansville recruit. McCauley noted that there’s plenty of experience on the rest of the squad, including C.J. Johnson, who had 15 points against Kokomo last season.
Kokomo owns victories over Western and Westfield. In both games, the Kats overcame sluggish first halves to take control in the second.
“I like how we’ve played in the second half of both games,” McCauley said. “I like that we’ve had great effort and great attitudes. Our guys have had some adversity in both games and they’ve responded well to that adversity by really playing as a team and as a unit.
“It’s going to be a really tough game against an outstanding opponent. We’re going to have to play 32 minutes of great basketball.”
Around the area
In tournament play, Cass (1-1) plays Caston (0-2) at 6:30 p.m. tonight in the consolation game of the Cass County Invitational. Clinton Central and Carroll are in action in the Delphi Classic. CC plays Frontier at 6 p.m. in the consolation round, and Carroll faces Faith Christian at 7:45 in the consolation round. Carroll and CC await matchups for their final games in the tourney on Saturday.
A pair of 0-1 teams look to get in the win column tonight when Maconaquah visits North Miami. Also, their Miami County rival Peru (0-1) visits Wabash (1-1) tonight.
On Saturday, Eastern (0-1) visits Eastbrook (0-2).