NAPPANEE — After rivals Northridge and NorthWood locked horns, with enough tense moments stuffed into the showdown to lock up one’s heart, they locked arms.
Players from the two teams huddled in a ring around center court for a moment after the visiting Raiders sent the previously undefeated Panthers to a 54-52 loss Friday, Jan. 17, at The Pit.
“We just said a prayer together, thanked God that we got this chance to play,” said Northridge junior Tom Morrison, whose 3-pointer from the left corner gave the Raiders a 54-50 lead with 1:49 remaining, matching the largest lead by either side.
Morrison said the prayer was NorthWood player Tanner Farmwald’s idea.
“There are a lot of friends on the two teams, a lot of crossing paths in AAU,” Raider coach Ronnie Thomas said. “I think they were just wishing each other luck because this is the only time they’re going to play.”
Too bad, because encores to what happened Friday are always welcomed by basketball lovers.
“It feels like there should be a rubber match involved,” said Thomas, a Northridge graduate. “When I played, we usually played them three times.”
Now, though, the Raiders (4A) and Panthers (3A) are in different post-season classes and no longer play in the same holiday tourneys, so there will be no rematch, let alone a rubber match.
Northridge’s victory wasn’t secured until Jonathan Wilkinson’s running half-court shot just before time expired drew iron, but didn’t fall.
That try came after a NorthWood timeout with 3.7 seconds left and having to inbound 84 feet away. Wilkinson appeared to release the shot about a second sooner than needed but also before defenders could further close.
“It was a unique time left on the clock,” Panther coach Aaron Wolfe said, “and that was the play our players felt most comfortable with, and any time you’re getting a look at the end of the basketball game, you know it’s a low-percentage shot.”
The Raiders improved to 10-1 overall, 3-0 in the Northern Lakes Conference, while dropping the Panthers — who had been off to the deepest undefeated start in program history by three games — to 9-1 and 2-1.
Nate Ritchie notched game highs of 16 points and 12 rebounds, and his seven second-chance points keyed Northridge to a 14-9 advantage in such points overall against NorthWood and its front line of three 6-foot-5 players.
Pete Smith added 15 points and three steals for the winners, and Morrison scored 12 points.
Wilkinson netted 14 points for the Panthers, while Zach Zurcher and Will Stueve added 13 apiece to go with a combined 15 boards. Stueve also blocked three shots.
“Jonathan Wilkinson and Zach Zurcher are going to get their points,” Thomas said of a duo that went in averaging a combined 34.9, “but I don’t think there was a single bucket that they got easy. We had a number of different guys on them and really made them work tonight.”
There were 13 ties and 10 lead changes crammed into the 32 minutes.
A near-capacity crowd estimated at 3,400 soaked it all in.
“We were stoked,” said Morrison, whose team and Elkhart Memorial are the final two NLC unbeatens. “We knew it was a huge game in conference, and (the atmosphere) was unreal. The gym was loud we had to yell to call our plays. It was just ridiculous.”
Neither crisp team seemed to take its foot off the accelerator while humming through the first three quarters.
Ironically, the final quarter, which the Raiders entered with a 47-44 lead, was the one that was low-scoring.
After the clubs combined to make 38-of-76 field goals and 11-of-16 free throws during the first three periods, they made just 5-of-19 and 4-of-8 in the fourth.
With the score 54-52, NorthWood missed the front end of one-and-ones both at 50 and 22 seconds remaining.
“I felt the energy (expended) in the game showed up in the fourth quarter,” Wolfe said. “I thought both teams were making sure they were going to get a quality possession and that slowed the pace of the game. They made a few more plays down the stretch than we did, both rebounding and shot-making. However, I thought our guys fought to the end.”
The biggest shot made wound up being Morrison’s aforementioned triple.
“It gave them some momentum, gave them some control,” Wolfe said.
“Pete Smith found me in the corner and I just rose up and knocked it down,” said Morrison, whose 12 points were one off his career highs. “I’ve been working on my shot in practice and felt good today. I wanted to attack and get some shots off.”
“Tom’s proven he’s a great shooter,” Thomas said, “and Pete knows what’s going on and who to get the ball to. We have all the faith in Tom to knock a shot down like that. He’s one of our options, and he was open.”
The Panthers wound up at 51 percent from the field to the Raiders’ 40 percent, but overcoming that difference, Northridge had four treys to NorthWood’s one, made five more free throws, had that plus-five count in second-chance points and committed just six turnovers to the hosts’ nine.
NORTHRIDGE 54, NORTHWOOD 52
Northridge — Nate Ritchie 6-15 3-3 16, Tom Morrison 5-10 1-3 12, Sam Ahonen 1-6 2-3 4, Pete Smith 5-9 3-4 15, Kurtis Hochstetler 0-2 0-0 0, Brock Downey 3-6 0-0 6, Payton Carson 0-0 0-0 0, Collin Utley 0-1 0-0 0, Christian Bach 0-1 1-2 1. Totals: 20-50 (.400) 10-15 (.667) 54.
NorthWood — Zach Zurcher 6-9 0-0 13, Jonathan Wilkinson 6-14 2-3 14, Will Stueve 6-10 1-3 13, Tanner Farmwald 2-5 1-1 5, Braxton Linville 1-2 1-2 3, Kyle McCoy 0-1 0-0 0, Dakyrion Fox 2-4 0-0 4. Totals: 23-45 (.511) 5-9 (.556) 52.
Scoring By Quarters
Northridge 17 15 15 7 — 54
NorthWood 16 16 12 8 — 52
3-point goals: Northridge (4-14) — Smith 2-2, Morrison 1-3, Ritchie 1-5; NorthWood (1-9) — Zurcher 1-2.
Rebounds: Northridge (31) — Ritchie 12, Ahonen 4; NorthWood (28) — Zurcher 8, Stueve 7.
Assists: Northridge (7) — Smith 2, Hochstetler 2; NorthWood (14) — Zurcher 3, Wilkinson 3, Linville 3.
Steals: Northridge (4) — Smith 3; NorthWood (1) — Linville.
Turnovers: Northridge 6, NorthWood 9.
Fouls: Northridge 15, NorthWood 13. Fouled out — none.
Records: Northridge 10-1 (3-0 NLC), NorthWood 9-1 (2-1 NLC).
Next: Penn at Northridge, Lakeland at NorthWood, both Tuesday, Jan. 21.
JV: NorthWood 52, Northridge 43. Top scorers: NorthWood — Vincent Miranda 20, Dakyrion Fox 10, David Eshelman 8; Northridge — Mason Pratt 8, Dylan Sandy 7. JV records: NorthWood 9-1, Northridge 7-4.