Two of the state’s leading scorers. Hot 3-point shooting and rim-rattling dunks. A packed gymnasium plus WHMB-TV cameras.
The Blackford-Northwestern boys basketball game Tuesday night delivered all that and more.
Led by star guard Luke Brown, the visiting Bruins came out on fire, making 11 of 13 shots in the first quarter — including 6 of 8 from 3-land — to surge to a 28-12 lead. Led by star guard Tayson Parker, the Tigers outplayed the Bruins over the middle two quarters to draw within 52-50.
And when Parker turned a steal in the defensive halfcourt into a thunderous two-handed dunk just 15 seconds into the final quarter, it was 52-all and the gym was rocking.
Following a two-minute stretch where neither team scored, the Bruins delivered the knockout punch by hitting three more 3-pointers to fuel an 11-0 run that made it 63-52 with 3:47 remaining. The Bruins went on for a 75-65 win.
“We dug ourselves a hole and then you have to play a little differently to get back. You extend yourself a little bit more to get back,” Northwestern coach Jim Gish said. “We brought it to 52-52 and I think there were four empty possessions for us where we didn’t score. We just didn’t get the same shots in those four possessions that we were getting to get ourselves back into it initially.
“I think some of that was legs. We had to battle and battle to get back.”
Blackford coach Jerry Hoover was happy to see his squad hold strong for the win following a 70-68 loss to Andrean on Saturday.
“We played better,” he said. “We haven’t been playing a lick of defense. We had Andrean beat and we just gave it away. I was glad to see [Tuesday] when it got 52-52, we got a couple baskets and went ahead and won it because it’s important to do that.”
The Bruins improved to 13-5 while the Tigers dropped to 14-4. The Tigers saw a seven-game winning streak come to an end.
For Blackford, Brown led the way with 31 points. The 6-foot-2 junior is the state’s leading scorer. He showed why in the first quarter when he made all five of his shots — including four from 3-land — in a brilliant shooting display.
He finished 7 of 10 from 3, hitting several from college and NBA range.
“He led the state in scoring and free-throw percentage last year,” Hoover said. “He’s leading the state in scoring this year and also assists. That’s unheard of. [Larry] Bird didn’t do that, Oscar [Robertson] didn’t do it, but he’s leading the state in both.
“I don’t expect him to wind up that way because there’ll be some guy that will pad [his player’s] assists so his kid will beat Luke. But Luke is averaging 8.7 assists a game. That’s pretty dang good.”
Parker was brilliant as well. The 6-0 senior scored a game-high 34 points. He finished 14 of 21 from the field and 4 of 4 from the foul line. He moved past Kokomo legend Jimmy Rayl for No. 3 in all-time scoring in Howard County history.
“He is one helluva player, isn’t he?” Hoover said.
After Blackford dominated the first quarter, Parker sparked the Tigers’ comeback by scoring 10 points in the second quarter. He had a pair of dunks in the quarter including a vicious tomahawk in transition in the opening minute that seemed to raise the Tigers’ energy level.
Down 40-30 at halftime, the Tigers kept coming in the third quarter. Nathan Bennett hit three 3-pointers in the first three minutes to bring the Tigers within 46-39. Parker made it 48-41 (and moved past Rayl in career scoring) with a nice reverse layup off a baseline drive. After Brown hit a driving jumper, the Tigers closed the quarter with a 9-2 run to draw within 52-50. Parker and Austin O’Neal had a pair of buckets each to key the run.
The Tigers drew even in the fourth, but couldn’t take the lead. The Bruins’ Cameron Elam hit two 3-pointers and Brandon Stroble hit one during the game-deciding 11-0 run.
Northwestern limited Brown to eight points in the second half, but he made good decisions with the ball and Elam and Stroble combined for 21 points in the half. Stroble finished with 19 points and Elam had 13 points.
“If their other guys are doing things to have success — hitting shots, going to the basket aggressively — it makes life really difficult on a defensive team,” Gish said. “I’ve seen several of their games where those guys maybe didn’t hit the shots they were hitting [Tuesday]. They stepped up.
“It was a great game. Everybody was hyped. They did what they needed to do to pull out the win.”
For Northwestern, Parker and Bennett (16 points) combined for 50 of the Tigers’ 65 points.The Bruins took away the Tigers’ other scoring options.
Parker has 1,648 career points. He is 19 points shy of tying former Tiger great Austin Parkinson for No. 1 in school history and No. 2 in county history.
• Northwestern’s game against Rossville on Saturday has been moved to next Tuesday at Rossville.