Western’s boys basketball team put an emphatic end to Northwestern’s recent dominance of their rivalry series by whipping the Tigers 67-31 Tuesday night.
The Tigers had won the previous six meetings. The streak began in the 2015-16 season.
“It was a good team win,” Western coach Mike Lewis said. “I know it was really important for our seniors [to win] and everybody who played contributed.”
The visiting Panthers controlled the Hoosier Conference East Division game with a suffocating half-court defense that kept the Tigers from developing any rhythm at any point. Northwestern finished with more turnovers (29) than field goal attempts (22).
“I felt we came out and played with a sense of urgency defensively,” Lewis said. “Our guys were flying around and shutting down passing lanes, just really came out as the aggressors.”
Western improved to 6-5 overall and 1-0 in the HC East while Northwestern dropped to 0-3 and 0-2.
The Panthers hurried the Tigers into nine turnovers in the opening quarter, but Western struggled offensively (4-of-15 shooting) and led only 9-7.
The Panthers shifted into gear in the second quarter as they forced seven more turnovers — and complemented their defensive work with better offense to build a 32-15 halftime advantage. The Panthers hit 8 of 15 shots, including 6 of 12 from 3-land, in the quarter.
Backup guard Michael Gaines provided a spark midway through the quarter. Western was leading by just four when he hit back-to-back 3-pointers and added a drive-and-kick assist to Nathaniel Liddell for another 3-pointer. That stretch ignited a 17-4 run over the final 3:30 of the half.
“The second quarter is what broke the game open and I thought the bench play was key,” Lewis said. “Ian Thurston, Mike Gaines, Dan Marley and Mitchell Dean — all those guys were fantastic. We made a few shots, finally opened the game up. From there, once we saw the ball go in, we played with a lot of confidence the rest of the game.”
Western put the game away in the third quarter. Western opened with 10 straight points for a 42-15 lead before Northwestern had attempted a shot as the Tigers continued to bleed turnovers.
“If you don’t get shots, it’s hard to have any kind of offense,” Northwestern coach Jim Gish said. “It’s mistakes on our part and a lot of that is just self-inflicted.”
Up 48-24 after the third quarter, the Panthers opened the final quarter with 11 straight points with Evan Kretz scoring the first seven.
Kretz finished with a game-high 21 points on 9-of-20 shooting (3-of-12 from 3). Liddell followed with 13 points, Cooper Jarvis had 10 and Gaines finished with nine on 3-of-3 3-point shooting. Kyle Sanders, Western’s leading scorer, scored four points on 2-of-7 shooting.
“Kretz was the aggressor [Tuesday],” Lewis said. “We need him to have that mindset every single night, Liddell to have that mindset every single night and then teams won’t be able to defend Kyle the way they’re guarding him. But it says a lot about Kyle’s character because he’s OK being a screener. All he cares about is winning.”
Lewis credited Parker Dean and Jarvis for their defensive work against Northwestern post Eli Edwards, who finished with seven points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Mario Reed also had seven points for the Tigers.
The Tigers are playing from behind after having six games postponed and spending time in quarantine. That would be tough for any team, but the Tigers are a young team with Edwards as the only player with varsity experience.
“We have a lot to learn and a short amount of time to do it. That’s the issue,” Gish said. “Understanding of the game is still something we’re picking up on. The learning curve is straight up right now. We have a lot to work on each day.”