WARSAW — If you were in the stands at the Tiger Den for Friday night’s Northern Lakes Conference contest between host Warsaw and visiting Goshen, you likely wouldn’t have guessed that, in their last five meetings, the Redhawks had gotten the better of the Tigers each and every time. But back at Warsaw’s basketball camp last summer, that’s exactly what happened.
Tigers head coach Doug Ogle called on that experience in his pre-game talk with his players prior to tip-off Friday, and they responded in a well-executed, efficient and just generally very solid, 53-35 win.
“They came down here this summer. I invited (Goshen coach) Mike Wohlford to be a guest speaker at Tiger Basketball Camp in June so he came down, and they brought their players,” recalled Ogle. “Then after camp was over we dismissed the camp and then we scrimmaged them informally, no refs, and they beat us. I think we played five games, and they beat us five games. So we kind of talked about that. I just said ‘We know that Goshen is capable’ and kind of drew on that a little. I think our busy wanted to play better than what they did against them in June.”
Goshen (3-7, 0-3 NLC) led by a tenuous 12-11 margin following senior Philip Wertz’s near full court buzzer-beater at the close of the first period — a one-handed heave of some 78 feet that hit nothing but net and sent the Goshen crowd into hysterics. But after that back-and-forth first period, the lead changed hands for the sixth and final time with Tyler Metzinger’s nice post move and layup at the 5:59 stop of the second, and the Tigers (6-7, 2-1 NLC) built steadily toward leads of as many as 22 points by outscoring their guests 27-10 in the middle frames.
“That’s one of the first things I talked about at halftime was our reaction heading into the second quarter, that it didn’t rattle us. It was a heck of a lucky play, but we had a great second quarter,” said Ogle. “It would be easy for our players to kind of get dejected a little bit.”
“I’m of the belief that you never get too high, never get too low so the first thing I said was ‘Settle down. We need to win the next possession,’” said Wohlford of Wertz’s shot and the first quarter break. “Yeah it’s great. It was awesome. It’s an 80-foot shot almost. He’s a baseball player; he’s a good baseball player. But sometimes it’s not a good thing because the kids are so amped up, they’re talking about the shot, and they forget about the next shot, the next play. So I don’t think we responded very well, but a lot of that was Warsaw. They played really well interior defense. They caused us a lot of problems with their physicality.”
Warsaw converted at a nearly 57 percent clip from the floor for the night, including 11 of 16 (68.8 percent) of its shots in the first half. Senior guard Zach Riley helped get his team off to a hot start with eight of his career-high 15 points — to go along with a near double-double of nine rebounds — before the break, finishing at a 5-of-8 rate for the night. Junior point guard Nolan Groninger only had six points over the first half, but he finished the night with a game-high 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting while dishing out six assists, hauling in four rebounds and grabbing four steals in an all-around performance.
The rest of the Tigers lineup was just solid. Eight made the scoring column, the team enjoyed a 10-carom advantage off the glass, and, all told, the home team surrendered only three turnovers in a cleanly-executed basketball game. Goshen gave up just seven turnovers on the other end, but Warsaw made the Redhawks pay for every one with 13 points off those giveaways Friday.
“We haven’t scored off of turnovers like that this year,” said Ogle. “This is the first time we’ve done that. And in transition tonight we made four or five plays where we made the pass at the right time and then made the layup. Tonight in transition we were the best that we’ve been by far. And that’s very helpful when you’re scoring in transition, which we really haven’t been doing much of. They don’t turn the ball over much, but when they did we got 13 points off of seven turnovers. We were productive.”
Goshen was nearly as offensively efficient as Warsaw in the first half, scoring on 7 of 14 shots before halftime but still trailed 28-16 at the intermission. The Tiger team defense limited the Redhawks to 13-of-38 (34.2 percent) shooting building on their cushion in the second half, and they held senior guard Will Line to 3-of-10 shooting and only eight points at the game. Bryant Robinson scored a team-best 10 points, but six of those points by the 6’4” Goshen junior came from beyond the arc at the Den.
“They’re just a better basketball team than us right now, and we know we need to get better but a lot of that comes down to hitting some open shots. I’m pleased with the style we played tonight; they just were better,” said Wohlford.
“We got the ball inside and we couldn’t finish, couldn’t draw fouls, and they finished those. That was really the difference.”
“They didn’t shoot well. They missed some good shots, but still our defense a lot of times we were physical,” Ogle explained. “When Line got into the basket area we were in front of him a lot of times forcing him to take tough, challenged shots.”
Friday’s win represented Warsaw’s third straight and the Tigers’ fourth in the past six games. They now sit at 2-1 in a tightly-contested NLC alongside both NorthWood and Northridge with Elkhart Memorial sitting atop the conference standings at 3-0. The team that took care of Goshen looked like an entirely different one than the lineup that lost a 28-20 NLC opener to Wawasee back on Dec. 15, a defeat that snapped a 21-game league win streak, and Warsaw now finds itself back in the NLC race.
The Tigers play host to Fort Wayne Snider Saturday before returning to conference play at Concord next Friday night. Should they win, they’ll travel to NorthWood for what would be a big NLC match-up the following Friday, Jan. 26.
“After the Wawasee game I had to assume that we were going to get better. So now with the wins over Northridge and Goshen we are right back in the thick of things. If we can go to Concord and play well a week from tonight and play well in that game, then that would set up another big game in Nappanee on the 26th,” said Ogle.
“We’re back in it. We’re definitely going to be a factor in that conference, and after the Wawasee game you wouldn’t necessarily have thought that.”
Goshen returns to action at Jimtown Tuesday before resuming NLC play at home versus NorthWood Friday night.
Warsaw also won Friday’s JV contest, 42-23. Keagan Larsh missed just three shots on his way to a game-high 18 points while tallying three assists and a pair of steals for the Tigers JV. Jason Holmes led Goshen with 11 points.