ELKHART – NorthWood boys basketball coach Aaron Wolfe knew he needed a strong performance from his team Friday night.
He got just that.
The surging Panthers, paced by outstanding play from Nick Bean, rode a red-hot start to collect a 55-43 win over host Elkhart Christian Academy.
Junior guard Bean drained 15 points, tying classmate Kaden Gongwer, for team-high honors, as NorthWood upped its season mark to 14-5 with its sixth straight victory.
Senior Weston Sage tallied a game-high 19 points and senior Gabe Arter added 16 to lead the Class 1-A No. 12 Eagles, who fall to 14-6 with their third straight loss.
NorthWood, which has beaten the Eagles the last four seasons, saw ECA slice an 18-point second-half lead all the way down to six at 49-43 with 1:31 left. The Panthers then calmly knocked down six free throws in the final 56.4 seconds with the trio of Brad Delio, Gongwer and Caleb Glick each hitting a pair of seal the deal.
“We needed to play very well to win tonight against a good Elkhart Christian team and I felt that our guys did have a strong game,” said Wolfe, who watched his team win for the third time in five days this week.
NorthWood, which led from start to finish, raced to a 21-8 lead after the opening period as Gongwer scored eight points and Bean netted seven. The Panthers led 34-24 at halftime on the strength of going 13-24 from the field in the first 16 minutes.
“I thought that our guys were engaged tonight from the start and I was proud of them for how they came out and respected a very good Elkhart Christian team,” Wolfe remarked.
The Panthers opened the second half with a quick 8-0 run to push their lead to the largest of the night at 42-24. The Eagles closed the period with a 6-0 run to get back within 42-30. Sage then led a surge by the hosts in the fourth quarter with a pair of treys to lead the ECA rally.
“We needed to make sure that we adhered to our principles both offensively and defensively,” said Wolfe of the message at halftime. “We had a very good segment at both ends of the floor to start the second half.”
Bean drained 7-10 shot attempts from the field to pace the Panthers.
“Nick gave us a huge lift tonight,” stated Wolfe. “He made some offensive plays and also got some rebounds. He had a very solid basketball game.”
Gongwer canned a trio of treys to highlight his 15-point effort and also led his team with four assists. Senior Brad Delio had nine points and seniors Caleb Lung and DeAndre Smart six each for the winners. Caleb Glick and Luke Holland each added two points. Lung and Delio each had seven rebounds.
NorthWood finished 20-43 overall from the field, including 5-14 from distance. The Panthers were 10-15 from the free throw line and had a 34-15 rebounding edge and committed just six turnovers.
The Panthers have bounced back nicely the past three weeks after losing three tough NLC games in a row to Northridge, Goshen and Warsaw. Warsaw and Northridge tied for the league title at 5-2, while the Panthers were 4-3.
“I just feel like some our player have settled into their roles and have gotten more comfortable as we near the end of the season,” commented Wolfe about the current six-game winning streak. “If we can continued to stay healthy that will be pivotal for us moving forward.”
NorthWood defeated Elkhart Memorial at home Monday night and won at Tippecanoe Valley Tuesday night.
Sage was 6-16 from the field, including 4-10 from 3-point land for the Eagles.
“Sage is a good basketball player,” Wolfe said. “I think that our guys made it tough on him in many situations tonight.”
ECA finished 13-36 from the field, including 5-17 in the second half. The hosts were 9-26 from distance, 8-11 from the line and had eight turnovers.
ECA was without starter Jakob Maxwell. The senior injured his ankle during a 50-43 loss to Fairfield on Tuesday night.
The Eagles, who lost 77-54 to NorthWood last season, had won 11 in a row prior to their current three-game skid.
NorthWood won the junior varsity game 55-43. Chase Horner had 14 points to lead the winners. Brock Flickinger scored 11 points and Jason Borkholder 10 for the Panthers. Bailey Petty and Bryce Coursen each had 11 points to lead ECA.
NorthWood plays at Oregon-Davis Saturday afternoon. The Panthers then host Manchester Feb. 20 and Elkhart Central Feb. 22 to close out the regular season before playing host to their own Class 3-A Sectional.
ECA will play at Granger Christian Tuesday night and then host Argos Feb. 23 to wrap up its regular season.