CRESTON – Maybe the only thing basketball coaches love more than big players is little things. Do them, and size suddenly becomes irrelevant.
Norwayne did nearly everything right but shoot the ball well Friday night. That effort was plenty to overcome the sub-par shooting – and Smithville’s overwhelming size advantage – as the Bobcats posted a 62-53 victory over the visiting Smithies.
Norwayne (14-3, 11-2) moves into a first-place tie with Smithville (16-2, 11-2) in the Wayne County Athletic League.
“It’s just flat-out effort,” Norwayne coach Brian West said of how his team has been able to beat the front-running Smithies twice this season. “People see what goes on in the gym on Friday night. They don’t see all the hard work in practice. These kids work hard every day. There has not been one time I’ve had to stop practice to tell them to work hard. I’ve had to stop to refocus, just like we did tonight.”
The Bobcats’ needed a bit of refocusing in the third quarter. Smithville, trailing by as many as nine late in the first half, rallied to take a 31-28 lead three minutes into the third quarter.
West called time-out, but said he didn’t change anything. He just wanted to make sure his team was paying attention.
“We were starting to get away from the things we wanted to do,” the coach said. “We have two- or three-minute spurts where mentally we let down.”
Whatever, it worked. Over the final 4:20 of the third quarter the Bobcats made 7 of 8 field goals, including their last six in a row.
That accounted for the bulk of a 16-3 run to close the period. Josh Besancon’s put-back to start the fourth quarter upped the margin to 46-34.
“That gave us momentum going into the fourth quarter,” said Norwayne senior Josh Brown, who had game-highs of 22 points and 14 rebounds, including 10 second-half boards. “That was really big for us.”
The Bobcats still led by 12 with 5:15 left, when Smithville put together one final charge. With 6-foot-7 junior Kenny Kornowski scoring six of his 13 points down the stretch, the Smithies pulled within 52-48 with 1:50 left. But from that point Norwayne made 11 of 12 free throws to keep the margin from thinning any more.
The closing free throws – senior Blake Fetzer made 6 of 6 in the final minute — were just a part of a sound fundamental game by the Bobcats.
Norwayne turned the ball over just 10 times, had few defensive breakdowns and controlled the boards. Despite Brown,
“You just have to go right at them,” Brown said.
Tim Chaffin added 14 points for the Bobcats, making all four of his 3-point attempts. Norwayne shot 5 of 11 from behind the arc, but just 20 of 51 (39 percent) for the game.
Smithville was even worse, making just 20 of 55 shots from the field, despite the majority of them coming from inside of 10 feet.
Much of that could be attributed to strong play up top by Fetzer (9 points, 5 assists), Nate Gasser and Chaffin. For the most part they kept the Smithville guards from getting clean looks at their big men down low.
Orr scored six of his 13 points in the first 10 minutes of the game, as Smithville took an 11-8 lead after one quarter and maintained it in the early part of the second.
A pair of Smithville buckets in the final 1:21 made it a five-point game at halftime. The Smithies opened the second half with an 8-0 run, capped by Baird’s 3-pointer 3:17 into the third quarter.
That’s when West called his timeout. Over the next 3:33, the Bobcats got three baskets from Brown, two from
“That was a huge moment,” Smithville coach Michael Snowbarger said. “We hit the three to go up and they go on a 10-0 run or something like that.”
Each team has one league game left, Norwayne against sixth-place Rittman and Smithville against third-place Waynedale. So the Smithies will have their work cut out if they’re going to maintain a share of first place.