NAPPANEE — Many times this season, NorthWood’s Panthers have been able to get the ball in junior guard Trent Edwards’ hands, clear out and let him go to work.
Although Edwards still found plenty of ways to contribute, visiting West Noble’s mixing defenses did a good job limiting his offensive output in the sectional rivals’ game at the Pit Tuesday night. Fortunately for ‘Wood, there were plenty of other players to step up in a 55-44 victory for the home team that was closer than the final margin made it seem.
Edwards did manage a team-high 13 points on efficient 6-of-12 shooting but mostly made his presence felt in other ways — namely pulling down nine rebounds and passing out five assists. Fellow starters Ben Vincent and Brock Flickinger finished with 11 and eight points, respectively, while Jason Borkholder put up six points with six rebounds, but the Panthers got some big contributions from their bench as well. Josh Stratford scored seven with seven boards, Cooper Wiens put up five points, and Ian Raash put in some solid stretches for his team, too.
“I thought we were very balanced in scoring,” said NorthWood Aaron Wolfe. “Obviously I think that they were going to tilt their defense to stop Trent, but he was able to get nine rebounds and have five assists. I look at that as being able to contribute and help our team win, but we had some key minutes from Josh Stratford off the bench. Ian Raash played really well for us tonight, and also Cooper Wiens closed the game out for us really well. We had some contributors up and down the lineup.”
Vincent’s performance was perhaps the Panthers’ most clutch opposite West Noble. The junior guard put up nine of his 11 points in the fourth quarter, including six straight points during a crucial stretch midway through the final frame.
After Colten Cripe’s wing three-pointer at the 4:41 mark of the period cut NorthWood’s lead to a tenuous 44-42 margin, Vincent answered with a triple of his own on the other end to give his team just a bit of breathing room. He split a pair of free throws at the 3:54 stop of the clock, and, after a minute and a half of scoreless play by both teams, he broke the silence burying two more freebies to push the Panthers back out to an eight-point advantage with 2:22 left to play.
“I thought he stepped up, and his defense was very good for us as well in the first half. But I thought Ben did a great job in the fourth quarter of helping us finish that game. So credit to him, and I thought our teammates did a really nice job of finding him in some of those situations,” Wolfe said.
NorthWood made 11-of-20 free throw in the game — compared to a 9-of-10 effort at the line by the Chargers — and canned 8-of-13 in the nip-tuck fourth to hold off its guests. And that effort was needed as the Panthers struggled to score the ball from the field against an ever-changing variety of West Noble defenses in the second half.
After scoring at a 14-of-24 (58.3 percent) clip in the first half, ‘Wood was held to 6-of-21 (28.6 percent) shooting in the second half as the Panthers’ 29-16 halftime lead steadily dissolved.
“They mixed their defenses up, and I thought that they did a nice job. And I thought that we might have missed some good shots, but there might have been some things that we could execute a little bit better in the second half, which I think probably contributed to a lower field goal percentage,” said Wolfe.
While they outscored the Chargers at the foul line, the Panthers also dominated the battle of the boards, 39-22. A full 16 of those caroms came on the offensive end, which NorthWood capitalized on with 16 second-chance points.
“I think sometimes if you’re playing zone defense, it makes it difficult to mark offensive rebounders, and I thought our guys did a nice job of getting to the basket area. We were able to grab some very key offensive rebounds in that game,” said Wolfe.
Brockton Miller finished with 13 points, four rebounds and three assists for West Noble. Josh Mast scored 5-of-8 shots on the way to 12 points for the Chargers, who dropped to 5-12.
NorthWood, which improved to 12-4 with its fourth straight win, could see West Noble again at Class 3A Sectional 21 next month.
“West Noble is a team that looks like they’re growing and getting better,” Wolfe said. “Obviously them being in our sectional, there’s a good chance that we’re going to see them here in a month in the exact same situation. So to get a good feel for them, kind of understand their personnel a little bit better after you play them was good. But it’s a good win for our guys. Anytime that you have the ability to beat a sectional opponent, that’s always good.”
NorthWood won Tuesday’s JV contest, too, 65-34. Cade Brenner put up 15, J.J. Payne scored 14, and Chaz Yoder finished with 10 for the JV Panthers.
NorthWood will play host to Elkhart Memorial in a Northern Lakes Conference game Friday at 7:45 p.m.