WARSAW – Whatever the words of wisdom were that assistant coach David Wayne delivered in his halftime message to the Warsaw boys basketball team Friday night, he may want to bottle and market them.
The Tigers took the message to heart and played an inspired second half in running away from NorthWood 67-51 for a huge victory.
Senior Jared Bloom canned a game-high 22 points and junior Jordan Stookey turned in a sensational second-half effort with all 17 of his points as Warsaw pounded the Panthers in Northern Lakes Conference action. Senior John Swanson netted 10 points and junior Nate Pearl eight for Warsaw.
Warsaw, which trailed 20-19, erupted for 48 points in the final half by tickling the twine to the tune of a blistering 14-of-25 shooting effort from the field. The host Tigers, who improve to 9-6 overall and 3-2 in the NLC, outscored the Panthers 26-14 in the pivotal third period of play to take complete control of the contest.
The Tigers, who snap a two-game losing skid after having won their previous five in a row, also hit 19-of-23 from the free throw line in the second half. The trio of Bloom, Stookey and Taylor Cone each also grabbed six rebounds as a total team effort carried Warsaw to a crushing 34-17 advantage on the glass.
Senior Tommy Klem scored 17 points and juniors Zach Zurcher and Jonathan Wilkinson each had 13 for NorthWood, which drops to 11-3 overall and 3-2 in conference play. The Panthers have lost two in a row after a 55-47 NLC loss to Goshen last Friday.
“David inspired the guys at halftime,” said Warsaw head coach Doug Ogle of his assistant. “He gave an inspiring talk to the guys about claiming it and owning it. They listened and they went out and claimed the second half collectively as a team.
“This is a huge win for us. Our confidence was wavering and this is a much-needed confidence boost for us. We know we are not going to win the NLC, but we can be a factor in it.”
Warsaw turned in a dominating stretch in the third quarter, sparked by Stookey, to take command. The Panthers scored the first basket of the second half to make it 22-19 before the Tigers blitzed them with an 18-2 run to make it 37-24. Stookey scored 10 points in the third period, while Bloom, Swanson and Pearl each had five.
“Jordan had a good week of practice and I was real happy with how he played in the second half,” Ogle said. “We just played more solid in the second half and the rebounding was huge for us. We also made an offensive adjustment thanks to Todd Braddock (the Warsaw freshman coach) and moved Bloom to the high post in our offense and that worked out well right away for us.”
The Tigers were passionate, aggressive and a step ahead of the Panthers the entire final two quarters. Warsaw led 45-34 at the end of the third period and NorthWood got no closer than eight points in the fourth quarter. The Panthers did pull within 50-42 with 4:27 to play, but Warsaw answered with a quick 9-2 run with Bloom scoring six to put the game away. Bloom scored 11 points in the final frame, including hitting 9-of-10 free throws.
“It was a combination of their play and our play,” said NorthWood coach Aaron Wolfe about the second-half. “They played pretty well and we want to be in better defensive position than we were. They made great decisions in the open floor and we have to improve on our defensive position and clean up our rebounding.
“We were not able to capitalize on some offensive opportunities early and I think we pressed offensively as the game went on. As slow as we started tonight, I felt fortunate to be in the game at halftime.”
Wolfe, in his sixth year as the NorthWood coach, is a former Warsaw assistant coach.
Warsaw, which lost 41-39 at NorthWood last year, used an 8-0 run in the opening period to lead 12-5 after the first stanza. NorthWood, led by Zurcher, inched its way to a 20-19 halftime lead. The Tigers had nine turnovers in the opening half, but just three in their torrid second half performance.
Concord, by virtue of its 82-43 home win over Wawasee Friday night, clinches at least a share of the NLC championship as the Minutemen are now 5-0 in league play. NorthWood and Goshen, which lost 56-52 to Elkhart Memorial Friday night, are both tied with Warsaw at 3-2 for second place. Northridge, which edged Plymouth 51-49 Friday night, sits at 2-3, along with Memorial and Plymouth with Wawasee at 0-5.
NorthWood edged the Tigers 41-40 in the junior varsity contest. David Eshelman led the Panthers with 14 points and Travis Bear scored nine. Nick Sands scored a game-high 18 points and Jake Mangas had 15 to pace the Tigers.
Warsaw hosts Elkhart Memorial next Friday in another NLC contest. NorthWood plays at West Noble Tuesday night.