Every quality athlete has a defining game that makes their legend grow. For Michael Jordan, the measuring stick of all things basketball, it was his infamous ‘flu game.’ It was a night — for those who don’t know and live under a rock — in the 1997 finals when Jordan scored 38 points dehydrated with flu-like symptoms.
Norwell junior Will Geiger is not Michael Jordan, I am not saying that. But fresh — and I mean fresh — off a case of pneumonia, Geiger powered through with a gutty 25 point, nine rebound, four steal, three block effort on Wednesday night to push the Knights past Concordia Lutheran 39-37.
I don’t want to be dramatic, but is the stuff that legends are made of. A legend that I will tell and shout from the mountaintops for those who, for some reason, are yet to be acquainted with Geiger’s body of work. A legend that my little tadpole, attending the game with me, raved about the entire trip home.
But Geiger, always humble, talked more after the game about the things he did wrong than the multitude of things he did impressively right.
“I lost my conditioning, so it was tough coming out. I’ve been trying to push as much in practice but coming out I had to take a couple of breaks,” Geiger said. “I don’t know if I could say I didn’t play as well because of that, but I certainly wasn’t on my game tonight.”
Geiger poured in the first five Norwell points of the game, helping them to a 11-8 lead after the first quarter. He scored just one more point in the second quarter but Norwell led 16-15 at the halftime break.
He didn’t look to be himself in the first half. He struggled to find a flow after his early two baskets, he wasn’t taking chances or shots that are typical Will Geiger moments and coach Mike McBride was giving him more breathers than I would have expected.
Though with each breather, McBride would tell Geiger to let him know when he was ready. A swig or two of water and a swipe of a towel across his perspiring forehead later and Geiger jogged back to the scorers table.
Then I heard the story that, at least in my mind, would turn to Norwell basketball lore. At the halftime break, I learned that Geiger had spent four days on the shelf suffering from pneumonia last week. Yet there he was, taking deep breaths, plugging along for his team on Thanksgiving Eve. If you have met Will Geiger, you know that he is a consummate team first guy, often answering questions with “we” rather than “me.”
Knowing the existence of the illness he had been fighting off I was captivated by his effort. And then the second half happened and I was downright hypnotized.
“I thought he was a little passive in the first half and he didn’t shoot as much,” McBride said. “Second half I thought he got a little more aggressive. I know he was tired, he was cramping up at the end. But I think it showed our guys, ‘hey I can put you on my back and I can take you.'”
When Concordia’s Brayden Pearson scored the opening bucket of the second half, the Cadets seized control that Norwell had to work to keep pace with much of the second half. Geiger pulled up over a pair of defenders toward the end of the third quarter and knocked down a jumper from the free throw line to put an exclamation point on his 11 point scoring output. Geiger scored any given way in the third including knocking down his first three pointer of the season with relative ease, something unexpected when you know he hit only six three pointers last year and is far from what you’d define as a shooter.
He ended the night two-of-two from three point range.
“It was a good start, hopefully I can keep building on that. Hopefully that will kind of expand the floor and open up the floor a little bit,” Geiger said.
After a Landyn Wilson putback at the third quarter buzzer, the stage was set for Geiger to close out a Norwell win, though trailing 31-29.
The teams went a full two and half minutes in the second part of the fourth quarter without scoring before Geiger bodied his way inside for a basket while drawing a foul at the 2:02 mark. The basket gave Norwell a 36-35 lead. Geiger missed the free throw. He missed a lot of free throws on the night, some that you may consider clutch.
But the most clutch: he hit those. With 26.9 seconds left, a barrage of missed free throws in his immediate past, Geiger calmly knocked down a pair from the charity stripe to take the lead for good, 38-37. He added another free throw with 2.3 seconds left, his 25th point of the night.
Concordia’s Adam Gottschalk missed a half court heave at the buzzer and the Geiger version of the “flu game” was complete with a Norwell season opening win inside ‘The Castle.’
“Our guys did a good job getting him the ball down the stretch and then getting him the opportunities that we had to have,” McBride said. “I thought Geiger grinding through things, that’s kind of got to be our mentality, to be gritty. We have to be gritty, we have to execute.”
And I wish that words did what I witnessed justice. It was a quality game from Geiger, one of the area’s top returning scorers, on a regular night. But people don’t do what he did fresh off a bout of pneumonia. Kids, like he is, certainly don’t do that. And Geiger, again to his credit, will act like it was no big deal. He doesn’t require that spotlight or the praise that I will willing heap on to him as we all dig into our Thanksgiving feasts.
Instead, Geiger would want his teammates praised.
“Thankfully my teammates were there and they picked up the slack,” Geiger said while being humble about his own game.
Geiger wants the focus to be on the Drew Federspiel shooting or Conner Torson’s work getting to the basket to help create offense. Or the team’s solid defense that held two of Concordia’s top scorers, Jadon Dance and Gottschalk, to three made field goals. Or the charge that Levi Leidig took with about four seconds left in a one point game to seal the defensive portion of the win. They were all nice.
Will Geiger was mesmerizing.
For more on this game and the week in high school basketball, make sure to check out Bounce’s column “Ribbiting Regards” this Sunday and every Sunday. These opinions represent those of Bounce and Outside the Huddle. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers. Follow Bounce on Twitter at Bounce_OTH