By JOSH SIGLER
Simply put, Northwestern’s boys basketball team found a way to win in a 55-53 nail-biter against county rival Taylor on Friday night in another early season league test.
The specifics tell quite a tale and weren’t nearly as simple, however.
The Tigers built as much as a 19-point lead in the first half before going ice cold from the field in the third quarter. Taylor battled all the way back to take the lead on two occasions midway through the fourth quarter, but Northwestern was able to escape with a home victory despite connecting on just three field goals in the second half.
“I’m pleased with the kids. They showed a lot of heart,” Northwestern coach Jim Gish said. “They were able to put the right things together at the right times to pull out ahead. Obviously we have a lot of things to work on, but the heart the kids showed was tremendous. We’ll go back and look. We know there were some things we let get away from us during certain spurts in the game, and we need to counter those ourselves.”
Northwestern (3-1, 1-1 MIC) put three players in double figures in the first half and appeared to be cruising, up 38-19 with under four minutes to play in the first half.
The Titans closed the gap to within 39-27 by the half, then started the second half on an 11-1 run to pull within 40-38 with 4:29 to play in the third.
The Tigers were able to cling to that same two-point advantage heading into the final period (42-40) despite missing on all six of their attempts from the field in the third.
After allowing Northwestern to hit 5 of 11 from 3-point range in the first half, Taylor’s perimeter defense stiffened and took the Tigers out of what was comfortable offensively in the first half.
“I definitely felt like the second 16 minutes is where we concentrated our effort,” Taylor coach Andy Lewman said. “I felt like we only had one or two guys show up to play in the first half, and that was what made it a tale of two halves. We didn’t allow a field goal in the third quarter, and that’s great. That’s the way we want to play defense. It’s just a matter of putting ourselves in position to take care of what we need to do. In the second half we did that.”
A Nathan Gotshall trey from the left wing gave Taylor (0-4, 0-1) its first lead of the night at 43-42 with 7:16 to play.
The lead changed hands two more times. After Northwestern grabbed the lead back at 46-43, Taylor’s Challen Hodson buried back-to-back triples to put the Titans in front 49-46.
The score wound up deadlocked three more times. A Gotshall putback knotted the score at 53-53 with 37 seconds left. Northwestern hit one of two freebies on two separate occasions from then on, the last from Graham Ortmann with 11 seconds remaining before Northwestern’s final defensive stand to secure the win.
Trenton Brazel finished with a game-high 18 points for the Tigers, while Ortmann added 17 points with the help of four first-half treys. Chase Johnson added 11 points and 14 rebounds in the victory, but was held without a field goal attempt in the second half.
The Tigers hit just 16 field goals in the contest but was 17 of 27 from the charity stripe.
Nick Hoover paced the Titans with 16 points and six boards. Hodson added 11 points and four steals, while Gotshall and Calvin Wheeler both added nine points. Darryn Small pulled down a team-high 11 rebounds in the loss.