ELKHART — NorthWood’s boys basketball team snapped its streak, and it did so in convincing fashion in hostile territory at Concord’s McCuen Gym.
If the Panthers got a little extra incentive from their rivalry with the Minutemen, it wasn’t something that head coach Aaron Wolfe necessarily noticed. But whatever the reason, he was happy with his players’ energy in a 51-24 Northern Lakes Conference win that ended a three-game skid Thursday night.
“I hope that our players look at Concord as our next opponent and not an opponent that draws any more attention than anyone else on our schedule,” he said.
“It was a much-needed win. I felt that we had been playing some good segments of basketball through the month of January, but it’s always nice for our players to get rewarded for their efforts not only in practice but also in a game.”
As lopsided as that final margin was in Elkhart, the game was pretty close through most of three quarters before NorthWood’s players found another gear during in an explosive fourth period.
The Panthers 9-5, 3-3 NLC) used full court pressure to score 17 straight points to start the final stanza, ballooning a 29-18 advantage at the start of the frame to a 28-point cushion with nearly two minutes left to play. The visitors forced seven turnovers by the hosts and scored 10 points off those giveaways during that unanswered run, and a 22-6 final period effectively took the suspense out of what was previously a closely-contested and physical ball game.
“I think we were fortunate to make some shots in that quarter, which gave us some energy, and we ended up getting out in transition a few times, which is very, very helpful,” explained Wolfe of the final frame. “But I thought our guys executed. I thought all of those shots were at the end of a pass, and I thought our guys did a nice job of paying attention to details.”
Kaden Gongwer gave his team a spark in the fourth with an early 3-pointer, one of four by the junior guard at Concord. Gongwer converted 4 of 6 triples as part of a 7-of-11 night from the field on his way to a game-high 18 points. His two treys in the opening frame were the only points the Panthers got in a 6-5 first period that saw the two teams combine for a 4-of-20 shooting mark.
“Kaden had a quick start for us, and he played extremely well at the point guard position for us tonight. Not only did he shoot the ball very, very well, he distributed the ball well,” said Wolfe. “He is a very capable scorer, and tonight he showed that he not only he could score from behind the line, but he made some plays going to the basket, which is always nice for us to see.”
While Gongwer led the team offensively, senior forward DeAndre Smart did some of everything for NorthWood, with a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds patrolling the baseline, in addition to a block and two steals.
“That might have been one of his better games of his career. He was extremely active in rebounding, defense and did a nice job against their zone, finding gaps,” said Wolfe.
Smart’s effort on the defensive end was also key in helping hold down Concord’s big-bodied, 6-4 center Grant Magnuson. Magnuson scored on just 3 of 9 tries from the floor and finished with just six points — albeit a team-high against NorthWood’s stingy defense — as the Minutemen (6-10, 2-4 NLC) tried to pound it into the post, and the Panthers doubled down on him in the paint. It didn’t help the hosts’ cause that they scuffled to a 3-of-19 clip from the behind the arc, allowing NorthWood to stay packed in in its zone.
“Grant Magnuson is a good post player, and he demands a tremendous amount of attention. Tonight we were able to stay alert and understand where he was for the most part,” said Wolfe. “And then we were fortunate that they missed some shots, which allowed us to really focus on him throughout the night.”
The Panthers also benefitted from 15 team assists on 19 made shots in Elkhart, including a prolific eight helpers by senior swing Caleb Glick in his fourth game back from injury. But with Glick seemingly all the way back to form, senior NorthWood starter Brad Delio left Thursday’s game late in the first quarter after injuring his right leg in a loose ball scramble at the 2:06 stop of the period. His status was uncertain immediately after the game.
“Brad was not able to reenter the game tonight, and we’ll get together with our medical staff and Paul Widener, who does a tremendous job for us and get a game plan moving forward,” said Wolfe.
With Thursday’s win, NorthWood snapped a three-game NLC losing streak starting with a triple overtime loss to Northridge back on Jan. 12. At an even 3-3 in conference play, the Panthers sit in fifth place in the NLC standings behind a four-way tie between Warsaw, Northridge, Plymouth and Elkhart Memorial, all at 4-2. NorthWood takes a break from conference play with West Noble Tuesday before getting a shot at one of those NLC leaders in a home game with Memorial next Friday, Feb. 9 at 7:45 p.m., when Concord plays at Northridge.
Also Thursday, NorthWood’s JV earned a 53-42 win over the Minutemen. Ben Vincent poured in 28 points to go with seven rebounds, two assists and two steals, while Trent Edwards put up 12 points with five assists and four rebounds, and Jason Borkholder scored nine points with nine caroms for the winners. Tieon Autry and Shemari Southern led Concord with 11 and 10 points, respectively.