NAPPANEE – Lakeland got a big scare from Wawasee before holding on while NorthWood never looked threatened by Fairfield in the nightcap of day one of the Class 3-A NorthWood Boys Basketball Sectional.
Lakeland 53, Wawasee 43
In a game where Lakeland looked really good on paper, Wawasee trimmed a 26-9 halftime deficit to just two at 36-34 during a white-hot start to the second half. Aaron Evans started the fourth with five straight points, his three from the corner brought Wawasee to within two, but the rally would end there.
Lakeland would score the next five points, and after Jairus Boyer hit another three for the Warriors, Lakeland again went on a 5-0 run to grab a 46-37 lead and deflate the green and gold balloon.
“I thought we played really well in the second half against a good Lakeland basketball team,” said Wawasee head coach Jon Everingham. “For whatever reason we came out with some jitters in the first quarter and Lakeland took advantage of that. It doesn’t take much if you’re not real comfortable to throw things off a little bit. Once we got into the groove of the game, I think we proved not only can we compete with good basketball teams, but we could have won this thing. Unfortunately, you can’t play 24 minutes of good basketball, you have to play 32 minutes to win a sectional.”
A frigid first half for Wawasee saw the team shoot just 3-17 from the floor while Lakeland was on fire, hitting 10 of its first 15 shots. Wawasee’s three-point shooting kept them in the game in the second half, making eight after the break and 10-30 overall, but the three-balls wouldn’t fall late in the fourth as Lakeland pulled away.
Trevon Coleman finished his final game for the Warriors with 11 points and four rebounds, Boyer hit a pair of threes for six points and Jacob Hand had five points, five rebounds and four assists.
Lakeland’s Brayden Bontrager paced four double-figure scorers with 15 points, while Cole Harp had 12, Kole Miller had 11 and Jashaun Poole had 10. Cameron Bontrager added a full plate of five points, nine rebounds and five assists.
The Lakers were mighty efficient shooting the ball, going 18-27 on the night (67 percent), including 7-11 from three-point range.
Wawasee wraps up its 2017-18 campaign 6-17 overall. Lakeland (15-9) will meet Northeast Corner Conference neighbors West Noble (11-11) in Friday’s first semi-final.
“We want to be a winning basketball program and it takes time to really learn how to win,” offered Everingham. “For me as the head coach of the basketball program, I have to be really patient in terms of when that time will come. We have to develop talent and develop basketball players. I think we are doing that.”
NorthWood 59, Fairfield 39
In what many felt should have been the championship game based off the total packages, game two featured the top two records in the sectional. And the emergence of Luke Stephens to lead Fairfield out of the lockerroom should have added more sauce to the story.
It just didn’t happen.
NorthWood held Fairfield to just three points in the first quarter and Stephens, the superstar Falcon guard, to just two first-half points. Stephens, who hurt his left knee late in the Central Noble game Friday night, was questionable coming into the sectional, and showed all sorts of signs that he just wasn’t ready to return.
NorthWood’s Brad Delio did a number on Stephens, hounding him all over the court, which led Stephens shooting just 2-11 on the night and showing frustrations on both ends of the court, including a technical foul for slamming a ball and voicing his displeasure to an official. The cracks in Fairfield’s armor were exposed at that point, as Falcon Shandon Miller and Panther DeAndre Smart also had to be separated.
During that series of emotion, NorthWood was running away with the game after Delio and Kaden Gongwer both hit threes, Gongwer’s second putting Wood up 36-21.
“Credit to Brad Delio, I thought he did some really good things defensively,” said NorthWood head coach Aaron Wolfe of the matchup against Stephens. “On the other hand, Luke Stephens is a phenomenal player. And sometimes even the best players can have off nights. We were fortunate he missed some shots.”
Fairfield, which used seven points from Miller out of the gate in the third to rally back to trail just 23-17, never got any closer. NorthWood, on the other hand, had all seven of its major players contributing in several ways.
Gongwer was the high man on the scoring chart with 19 points, hitting four threes in the process. Caleb Lung was his usually efficient self with 12 points on 5-8 shooting and added four rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block for good measure. Delio chipped in seven points and Smart, Luke Holland and Nick Bean all added six points while Caleb Glick offered seven boards, four assists and two steals. NorthWood as a whole missed just two shots in the second half (11-13) and were equally good from the free throw line (12-14) down the stretch.
Miller had 15 points in his final game for the Falcons, which end its season at 19-5 overall and regular season champions of the NECC. Stephens had just six points and Peyton Faldoe had 10 points.
NorthWood (16-5) will host Tippecanoe Valley (5-17) Friday night in the second semi-final.
Wolfe added, “I was encouraged when they extended their defense that we were able to move the ball and get easy shots. I thought our kids executed very well.”