NAPPANEE — A little more than a week into the season, NorthWood’s lineup is still looking for an identity. Little by little, though, the Panthers are beginning to gel.
A fast start keyed NorthWood’s second straight win Friday in a 51-31 victory over visiting Triton at the Pit.
“I think we’ve got some guys that were inexperienced coming into the season, and right now we’re creating our own identity and guys are learning how to compete at the varsity level. Through tonight I was very pleased,” said Panthers coach Aaron Wolfe.
The Panthers outplayed their guests everywhere at the start of Friday’s contest, and an initial run of 17 straight points proved too much for Triton to come back from. NorthWood knocked down 6 of its first 9 shots while holding the Trojans scoreless in their first six attempts from the floor and turning them over seven times, and the Panthers also enjoyed a 7-3 rebounding advantage in the same span. Triton didn’t score until Keegan Westafer’s pull-up 3-pointer from the wing with just three seconds remaining in the opening stanza.
“I was proud of our guys for the start that we had,” said Wolfe. “I thought that we played well in all three phases. I thought that we executed on offense. We were forcing challenged shots, and I thought we rebounded the ball well early, and I think it led to the separation in the game.”
The Trojans were down two key players in Tyler Heckaman and Beau Hepler, the latter of whom dislocated his shoulder in a loss at Plymouth Tuesday, but coach Jason Groves wasn’t letting his team off the hook for the lackluster start.
“Our kids came out flat,” he said. “I don’t think they had any confidence. We didn’t get any leadership. We didn’t show emotion. It’s kind of the opposite of the Plymouth start. And there’s no excuses. We lost Beau, we don’t have Tyler, but I felt like they were prepared. We just didn’t come out the way we should’ve.”
The Trojans (1-2) finally got someone to step up in the second period as Jared Bules knocked down 4 of 4 3-pointers, the last of which cut Triton’s deficit back to 10 with 1:53 remaining in the half. But those 12 points were all Bules would ever get as the Panthers (3-1) began keying on him.
“I said ‘Somebody has got to step up. You can’t wait for Beau. You guys have got to look to score.’ (Bules) obviously did that and knocked down some shots,” explained Groves. “It was nice to see. That’s what we’re going to have to have is some other guys stepping up. Kind of looking long term, maybe this will kind of help us build some depth and get some additional scoring down the road.”
“He’s a good player and shoots the ball really, really well,” said Wolfe of Bules. “I thought maybe a couple of times we weren’t there, but then I thought he made some shots. Obviously a seasoned guard like that you’re going to have to be accountable for him at all times, but he’s going to make shots throughout the year.”
Triton would whittle NorthWood’s lead back to single digits at nine three different times in the third period, but the Panthers responded each time. Nick Bean’s old-fashioned three-point play at the start of the fourth sparked a run of seven unanswered points, and the home team outlasted the Trojans down the stretch. Ben Vincent led the Panthers offensively with 14 points mostly earned on the strength of 4-of-6 3-point shooting, Trent Edwards put up 11, Jason Borkholder scored eight, and Bean finished with six in a balanced effort that saw NorthWood tally 10 assists on 17 made shots.
“I thought they shared the basketball tonight. I thought we got some open looks, especially early in the game, and were able to capitalize,” said Wolfe. “We maybe had a little lull in the third quarter, but other than that I thought our guys did a nice job offensively.”
The Trojans were led in scoring by Bules’ 12 points, while freshman Ashton Oviedo put up all nine of his points in the second half and handed out three assists for the night.
Triton won Friday’s JV contest, 43-33.
John Gardner scored 13, and Tyson Yates notched eight points and three assists for the Trojans’ JV, which put the game away with a 13-4 fourth period. Jon Cripe scored 11, and Caleb Schwartz had nine for NorthWood’s JV.
Triton will host South Bend Career Academy Tuesday. NorthWood plays host to Westview Thursday.