ELKHART – The NorthWood boys basketball team has a lot of talented players in new roles this season.
Those new roles are doing nothing to keep the Panthers from rolling right along though.
NorthWood, which holds the No. 2 spot in the Class 3-A Associated Press poll, looked every bit like its lofty ranking Tuesday night.
The Panthers were on fire from the start in overwhelming host Jimtown 65-24 in a non-conference contest.
NorthWood star Vinny Miranda was hot enough to melt the snow and ice in the parking lot on this night. The Panther guard canned a game-high 26 points in less than three quarters of time on the court.
Senior Luke Zurcher fired in 15 points as the Panthers improved to 4-0.
Senior Sam Pawlak led the winless Jimmies, who fall to 0-5, with eight points.
NorthWood, which returns three starters from its 24-3 team of a year ago which lost in the regional final to eventual state champion Marion, took the game over from the opening tip Tuesday night.
The Panthers never trailed in the contest after bolting to a 10-2 lead midway through the opening fame. NorthWood used pressure defense and half court traps to get several easy transition buckets early on. The guests led 19-4 after the first period as Miranda scored seven points and junior Caleb Lung six.
NorthWood never relented in the rest of the opening half. Miranda, who entered the game averaging 20.7 points-per-game, buried three treys in the second quarter as the Panthers led 34-8 at halftime. Miranda, set up by pinpoint passes from his unselfish teammates, had 16 first-half points as NorthWood shot 14-26 from the field.
“I was proud of the competitive spirit that we showed in the first quarter tonight,” said NorthWood coach Aaron Wolfe about his team’s intense and outstanding effort early on. “The guys responded to the challenge very well tonight.
“I thought that our team defense was in many instances moving together tonight and that was helpful. We were fortunate that they missed some open shots early and we got into transition.
“Vine shot the ball well tonight and the majority of his shots I think came on the end of a pass. His teammates did a great job of finding him, especially when he started to heat up.”
NorthWood, which beat Jimtown 71-53 last year, cruised home in the second half as Wolfe emptied his bench early on in the final half.
The Panthers, who have three seniors, are bidding for the program’s fourth straight 20 win season this year.
“Everyone is really in new roles for us this year and that’s exciting that we have the opportunity to grow as a team,” said Wolfe, who is now 149-68 in his 10th year at NorthWood. “Our senior leadership with Vinny and Luke Zurcher and Trey Bilinski is very strong this year.”
NorthWood, which finished 6-1 in the Northern Lakes Conference last year with a lone loss to league champion Warsaw, opens league play Friday night at Plymouth.
“The NLC is special to our program,” said Wolfe, who was formerly an assistant coach at Warsaw. “It’s a conference which night in and night out gives you the opportunity to play at a high level. It can be punishing as your weaknesses gets exposed. But it gets you ready for the postseason.”
Miranda shot 9-13 overall from the field, including 5-8 from deep. He also had five rebounds and four assists. Miranda now has 925 career points.
Lung finished with seven points. Caleb Glick scored five and Brad Delio and DeAndre Smart each had four and Trey Bilinski and Terrell Pratcher two each. Bilinski led his team with seven rebounds.
NorthWood shot 25-46 overall from the field, including 8-18 from distance. Jimtown was 11-41, including 4-20 in the first half. The Jimmies were just 2-20 from 3-point range.
Collin Lemley had five points for the Jimmies.
NorthWood won the junior varsity game 54-21. Kaden Gongwer had 14 points and Matt Dutkowski and Terrell Pratcher eight each for the winners. Clay Campbell led Jimtown with six points.
The Northwood freshman team lost 23-21 to Penn. Trent Edwards had eight points and four rebounds for the Panthers. Brock Flickinger and Josh Stratford each had four points and Flickinger and Micah Phelps each had five rebounds.
NorthWood plays at Plymouth and Jmtown hosts Fairfield on Friday night.