OSSIAN – Norwell quickly found a comfort zone in Saturday night’s big Northeast 8 Conference showdown. Turns out, it didn’t matter much. Nor did an 11 point halftime lead or hoards of momentum that came with it in The Castle.
What mattered? How they were able to close. Ultimately, those closing possessions led to a 50-45 Knight victory over Leo and a big early push in the NE8 race that did, and still expects Leo to be a top contender.
“It is huge win, especially at home. That is a really good team,” Norwell senior Will Geiger said.
“We had a week to prepare and we put a lot of effort and energy into getting ready to guard them,” said Norwell coach Mike McBride. “There is a lot of energy that goes into that through the week and we are also making adjustments on the fly as the game goes. Emotions are definitely high after the win.”
The ambience in Norwell High School was something to behold on Saturday, as it can quite often be in that gym. A capacity crowd, a back and forth junior varsity game and big conference implications all played a role and Norwell handled the nerves fairly well early. They ran an out-of-bounds play to Luke McBride with 3.2 seconds left in the first half that led to the freshman draining a three pointer and a 33-22 lead at the half.
And that should have been, for a lot of purposes, a big closer. But Leo pressed on, played great in the third quarter with Blake Davison, Zack Troyer and DJ Allen making clutch baskets and pulling all the way back with a 13-4 run through he third.
“We haven’t been good in the third quarter. We talk about DeKalb, Carroll, Mishawaka Marian where we haven’t been very solid coming out of the gate and sure enough we had the exact same thing,” Mike McBride said. “We didn’t come out with the same sense of urgency as we did in the first quarter. You have to give them [Leo] credit. I thought they battled, they competed.”
So Norwell had to be closers. That is what we all expected the Northeast 8 to come down to this season. Norwell, Leo and New Haven at the top and literally every other team in the conference capable of throwing wrenches into things. So you have to have closers if you want to contend and if you want to win. Norwell proved yet again, as they recently did in giving Carroll their first loss of the season, that their depth has made them as capable as any team in the area of closing out games.
Their defense played a major part in gaining the lead and maintaining it even through Leo’s best efforted runs. The Knights held Leo’s hot shooting team to 1-of-12 shooting from three point range, where Lion star Blake Davison was 0-of-6.
“They are so hard to guard when they shoot it well. I thought we really defended the three point shot,” McBride said. “I just thought we made [Davison] work, we didn’t give him an easy looks, we made him take contested shots. I think Connor Torson deserves a ton of credit for that.”
Geiger going cold in the third, only to score the Knights’ first basket of the quarter with 3:48 left, was critical in Leo battling back. Troyer and Allen played magnificently in doubling down on Geiger and altering his shot, forcing him out into the midrange where he couldn’t find a flow. And if you have Geiger out of a flow, you have to be happy, right?
“I missed quite a few easy shots and jump shots. I try to just calm down, especially when double teams happened, I get caught up in going quick so I try to slow it down,” Geiger said. “Moving the ball to other guys, especially Connor Torson; he did a great job driving it in. They were focused on Luke [McBride] and double teaming me, it helped him drive in for easy layups.”
Mike McBride has also happy with the diversity of guys contributing. From Torson attacking the basket to the interior defense of Jon Colbert, it was a total team effort possession by possession in McBride’s eyes.
And I am sure Leo was happy when they had the flow going their way. But keeping Geiger out of a flow is hard. It is real close to being impossible. The night was about what Geiger could and couldn’t get. As players like Eli Riley and Torson chipped in offensively as well, the matchup of Geiger and Allen was fantastic, and eye for an eye battle at the basket and below the block where Geiger thrives most. Even though Allen got his way just as much as Geiger through 28 or so minutes of the game, Geiger is a closer and he closed.
With 1:50 left in the game, a quick hitter to Geiger on an inbounds play at the rim gave Norwell back the lead for good at 45-43 just moments after Allen himself had tied the game. The next trip down, Allen turned right into Geiger on the perimeter and Geiger ripped the ball away from him. It was a pair of critical moments with Geiger asserting his experience and dominance. With 40 seconds left, Geiger took Allen off the dribble from 18 feet out, pushing the lead to 47-43.
Geiger would then hit two tough free throws with 6.6 seconds left to push the lead to 49-45 before intercepting a Leo pass up the court an instant later. That was the close of the game. That is where Norwell thrived the most.
“We executed down the stretch when we needed to,” McBride said.
Geiger finished with a game high 21 points to go with 15 rebounds while Torson scored 12. It all closed out another great night in The Castle, one of the the area’s best places to catch a contest any night of the week.
“Something about Indiana basketball. And then Northeast Indiana basketball, it is so huge,” Geiger said. “A lot of nerves, especially when you see the crowd and you are waiting to run out. Once you get to playing, it is an amazing atmosphere; there is nothing like it.”
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