It's tough to beat a team three times in one season. It's tough to beat a team any number of times if you don't put the ball in the basket.
Norwayne's boys basketball team learned that on Friday night, dropping a 54-49 overtime decision to Wayne County Athletic League rival Smithville in the Wooster Division III District championship game. The teams were co-champs in the regular season, though Norwayne won both prior meetings.
The Bobcats (18-5) would likely have made it three for three had they not gone stone cold from the field for most of the last three quarters and overtime.
Norwayne made just 8-of-34 shots from the floor after halftime. That included stretches of eight and 10 consecutive misses. Over the final 14:36, the Bobcats were 5 for 27.
“I don't think it's just that,” Norwayne coach Brian West said of the shooting. “There were loose balls they got to that we didn't. There were a lot of things. And they did make their shots when they had to.”
Failure to get a shot off at all did the Bobcats in at the end of regulation. With possession and 1:02 left after Smithville tied the game at 43 on a spinning drive by junior Tyler Bates, Norwayne ran the clock down to 21 seconds before calling a time-out.
They set up a play to Josh Brown and ran it to perfection, but Smithville defended it a little better. The entry pass to Brown was deflected, sending the game to overtime.
“I give Smithville credit,” West said. “They defended that play. They had a good game plan all night and they executed.”
Once in overtime, Bates and Inland District player of the year Kenny Kornowski took over. Bates made a 12-footer and a pair of free throws to put the Smithies up by four points. Brown answered with a bucket at the other end, but a stick-back by the 6-foot-7 Kornowski put Smithville back up by four.
Josh Besancon scored for Norwayne to make it a two-point game with 1:14 left, but the Bobcats got no closer. Bates' three-point play with 50 seconds left, which accounted for the last of his game-high 15 points, effectively put the game out of reach.
“We just couldn't let it end for the seniors,” Bates said. “That just made us work harder.”
Norwayne's cold shooting, which began in the second quarter, allowed Smithville to overcome an early 18-5 deficit. That and the play of Smithville's senior sixth man Greg Besancon.
The guard came off the bench to score eight of his nine points in the first half, while Kornowski (14 points, 7 rebounds) we held scoreless.
“I usually just play to be a passer,” Greg Besancon said. “The coaches have been getting on me to shoot the ball. The last few games I haven't been attacking as much as I should have. I had to come in and attack and make them play me so I could get the big guys the ball.”
Smithville pulled within 25-18 by halftime. The Smithies outscored Norwayne 19-8 in the third period to lead 37-33 and scored the first basket of the fourth to lead 39-33 – their biggest advantage on the night.
Norwayne fought back, going on a 10-2 run that lasted nearly five minutes. A pair of free throws by senior guard Blake Fetzer (12 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists) gave the Bobcats their final lead. Bates tied the score just 11 seconds later.
“When you've got an athlete like Tyler Bates, you're not going to lose a whole lot,” Smithville coach Michael Snowbarger said.
Smithville, which will take on state power Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph, on Wednesday in the Canton Regional, won despite being out-rebounded 42-31 – an astounding number, considering the Smithies' size advantage across the board.
The rebounding edge, which included a 24-9 edge on the offensive end, was nullified by Norwayne's inability to convert. For the game the Bobcats were 17 for 62 (27 percent) from the field, including 4 for 16 on 3-pointers after making their first three to start the game.
Brown led Norwayne with 14 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Josh Besancon added eight points and nine boards.
“Besancon and Brown are excellent rebounders,” Smithville's Besancon said. “That's a team that if you don't play with heart, you can't beat. That's a tremendous team.”