Warsaw senior Drew Heckaman rises up for a contested shot in the paint during Warsaw’s Northern Lakes Conference game against NorthWood at the Tiger Den Friday night. Photos by Gary Nieter
Warsaw senior Drew Heckaman rises up for a contested shot in the paint during Warsaw’s Northern Lakes Conference game against NorthWood at the Tiger Den Friday night. Photos by Gary Nieter
Hosting 3A No. 1 NorthWood at the Tiger Den Friday night with huge Northern Lakes Conference implications, the Warsaw Tigers fought valiantly for all four quarters but were unable to convert enough chances to pull off the victory. The Panthers won 53-36 for their first triumph at the Tiger Den in just over 20 years.

Though the defense played well and at some points terrific, the offensive woes slowed down the Tigers all night long, as the team shot just 35% from the field. Senior Jaxson Gould (14 points) and sophomore Brandt Martin (13 points) carried most of the offensive load for a Warsaw team that was held to its lowest point total of the season.

“I asked the guys how many shots they took on their own this week, and one guy raised his hand and said he took some,” Warsaw head coach Matt Moore said. “So you can’t be surprised when you don’t rise to the occasion if your training isn’t putting you in the position to be ready for that occasion.”

With the two rabid fan bases of Warsaw and NorthWood arriving plenty early, empty seats could be counted using one’s fingers as the varsity game approached tipoff. The atmosphere in the Tiger Den was as electric as it has been all season long as starting lineups were announced, with bleachers bouncing up and down as the two student sections chanted and jumped around.

The beginning of the game acted as the heavyweight fight it was billed as. Both sides began the contest giving their opponent their best shot, with the teams spending the first few minutes trading buckets. The weight of each made shot could be felt throughout the gym, as each team’s supporters would erupt after each basket.

After the emotions of the first few minutes began to wear off and both teams settled into the game, points became a little harder to come by as the teams transitioned from trading buckets to trading stops. At the end of the first period of play, the Panthers held a slim 10-8 lead.

The second quarter was a little more difficult for the Tigers to navigate through. After a sluggish end of the first quarter, the home side’s offensive woes continued through the first half of the second. In the meantime, NorthWood’s outside shooting began to heat up as the team hit two quick threes in a row, putting the Tigers in a hole. To make matters worse, the Panthers’ size advantage was beginning to come into play. The aggressiveness of the NorthWood bigs caused some early foul trouble for Warsaw, with Gould picking up his third foul with just a minute left before halftime.

Despite the issues, the Tigers were able to answer the onslaught and punch back, going on a short run before halftime to keep the game within reach.

NorthWood began the third quarter much like the second, using aggression to get to the hoop and put Warsaw in foul trouble once again. The Panthers’ success at the charity stripe was a large factor in the game, as the visitors shot 16 more free throws than the Tigers and made eleven more than the home side. However, that was about all of the offense NorthWood managed in the third, as the three-point shooting that had given them their lead had now gone cold. The Tiger defense showed up big time in the quarter, compiling eight straight stops of the visiting offense.

“We did a great job defending their three point shooters, I know they didn’t shoot well from out there tonight (3-15),” Moore said. “I could see guys getting tired out there but they never left their man and never gave up on the defensive end.”

On the other side of the ball however, the Tigers were unable to cash in on enough opportunities to get back into the game. Plenty of Tiger shots from within five feet refused to go down, making the Warsaw comeback bid an even more difficult task. Despite the continued offensive troubles, Warsaw had weathered another storm and was still in striking distance with eight minutes left.

“It comes down to guys being able to finish. A lot of the credit goes to NorthWood, they’re a very well-coached team,” Moore remarked. “In no way am I disappointed in our guys tonight but we need to figure some things out. We have some questions we need answered and we need to be better.”

The fourth and final period is where the visitors showed their class. After a rough offensive eight minutes the quarter prior, NorthWood erupted in the fourth, going up by double-digits quickly and staying there for the remainder of the game. Panther senior Cade Brenner capped off his big night with a dazzling display of offense in the fourth, scoring seven more points to bring his total to 25.

With the shots still not falling on the other end, there was not much the Tigers could do to survive the onslaught. Gould and Martin would hit back-to-back threes to bring the lead down to 10 but the team would not get closer.

Warsaw is now 9-7, 3-2 in the NLC, and has a quick turnaround, traveling to Elkhart Saturday for a meeting with the Lions.

“We’ve played them tight for the last few years. I’m looking forward to seeing how we bounce back and I think we will,” Moore said. “Our guys have that competitive spirit and I know they want that one.”