By Josh Sigler
DENVER — Entering the season knowing they would have to replace nine seniors from last season’s squad, Northwestern’s boys basketball team’s returners were prepared to experience some of the growing pains associated with the feeling-out process that comes with having several new faces in the lineup.
With a .500 record heading into the second half of the season at 5-5, the Tigers put in a dominant, momentum-boosting performance Tuesday night, controlling all facets of the game from the opening tip in a 64-30 thrashing of North Miami.
“Coming into the season, we knew it was going to be rough losing nine seniors. They were a big deal for us,” senior Trenton Brazel said. He and classmate Chase Johnson were the only two returners who saw significant time a season ago. “We’ve come out and played aggressive, and have had to live on our half-court defense. I’m pleased with where we’re at. This was a good win for us.”
Brazel put together an outstanding first half for Northwestern, canning four 3-pointers on his way to 16 points by halftime. His effort lifted the Tigers to a 32-16 halftime advantage, while the Northwestern defense held North Miami (1-12) to a 1-for-9 performance from the floor in the second quarter.
“We have some big game coming up — Carroll, Sheridan, Tipton — those are some games where we’re going to have to play defense,” Brazel said. “You need a game like [Tuesday night] where you just dominate from start to finish. It was nice to have a game where coach [Jim Gish] could sit down the last four minutes of the game and take a break.
“I’ve had a few off games [recently], so it was nice to come in and knock down some 3s.”
Northwestern did away with any notion of a comeback early in the third quarter, beginning the stanza on a 14-5 surge through the first four minutes and change with the help of six steals.
A Graham Ortmann steal and breakaway lay-in gave the Tigers a 40-21 lead with 3:43 left in the third.
“There in the first half, I thought there were times where we lost sight of what we wanted to do defensively,” Gish said. “We got baited into going for some things that we didn’t necessarily need to go for. We wanted to be fundamental and take care of things on our end, and let them do what they do. The guys did a much better job coming out in the first three minutes of the third quarter, doing what we needed them to do to have success, which was key for us.”
Sophomore reserve guard Blaine Brutus picked up the scoring slack for the Tigers in the third quarter, pouring in 13 of his 15 points in the stanza on 4 of 5 shooting. He dropped in a trio of triples as Northwestern finished the quarter on a 20-5 surge and led 52-21 heading into the fourth.
Fellow sophomore Blake Oakley added 10 points off the bench for Northwestern, which was playing in just its third game since Christmas break.
“It’s nice to play some basketball,” Gish said. “We’ve spent a lot of time in our gym not playing, but practicing. These guys are hungry and ready to play some basketball games, and it’s coming. We have a double [game] weekend coming up this weekend, and another double weekend next week against some really stiff competition, so it should be a lot of fun. We’re really going to have to step up and concentrate on the things we need to do to have success.”
Ethan Beech led North Miami with nine points.