Tigers become target
MAPLE — The Northwestern Tigers put a target on their back Tuesday by defeating Hayward 64-59.
Northwestern won the Heart O’ North Conference boys basketball title last season, and with Tuesday’s victory the Tigers (3-1, 2-0) and Bloomer Blackhawks (4-0, 2-0) remain the only undefeated teams in the conference.
“We have a lot of upperclassmen playing and I think most of us, if not all of us, have the experience and the composure to keep playing solid,” said Northwestern senior Alex Tecker.
Tecker led the Tigers Tuesday with a dominant performance in the paint. He finished with 24 points and scored 10 points during a key 6-minute stretch in the second half to secure the win for Northwestern.
Tigers head coach David Gustafson said he’d expected Tecker to play a major role against the Hurricanes’ guard-heavy team.
“I know Hayward has three really good guard players, and their weakness is their post play and their bench,” Gustafson said. “If we were going to win, we knew we had to have big games out of our post players.”
Tecker started out Tuesday scoring the first four points of the game. He put home a pass from Riley Stowers 30 seconds into the game and then gave the Tigers a 4-0 lead with a strong post move from the right block.
Hayward did not score its first points until 13:51 in the first half when senior Xavier Cummings knocked down a jump shot over two Northwestern defenders.
Cummings came into the game averaging more than 30 points per contest for Hayward and led the HON Conference in scoring last season.
“He’s a great player; that’s what he does,” Tecker said. “He’s tough to stop because he’s so athletic.”
Cummings had a hand in eight of Hayward’s first 10 points, dishing out an assist and scoring three baskets.
Tecker and Stowers countered for Northwestern by scoring six points apiece to open up a 12-10 lead at 10:17.
On the following play, Hayward’s Craig Burger knocked down the first 3-pointer of the night. Cummings gave the Hurricanes a 15-12 lead with a transition layup, but Matt Lindsay’s layup and Anthony Lupa’s 3-pointer from the right corner put the Tigers up 17-15 with 7:11 to play.
Hayward answered to tie the game, and the score was tied three more times before Stowers put in a one-handed floater with four seconds left to give Northwestern a 29-27 halftime lead.
At the start of the second half, Hayward made four 3-pointers in the first 5:30 to take a 39-34 lead. Phil Zeigle knocked down two shots, and Gabe Luedke and Cummings added one apiece.
“They’re great shooters and at the beginning of the second half I don’t think our posts were coming out to help on those as we wanted them to,” Gustafson said. “We were able to make that adjustment and not give them easy looks down the stretch.”
Northwestern trimmed away Hayward’s lead with shots inside by Mike Lindsay and Tecker and a 3-pointer from Lupa. The Tigers then tied the game at 43-43 on Tecker’s fade away with 10:35 to play.
Tecker went on to score eight of the next nine points for Northwestern to give the Tigers a 52-50 lead at 4:49.
The next time down the floor Hayward converged on Tecker, and Kade Bartelt took advantage with a close-range shot for a 54-50 Northwestern lead.
“We saw watching film that we had a mismatch in the post with Alex, and our offense was just trying to really hammer it home to Alex,” Bartelt said. “It worked out for us because he’s a really tough guy to stop in the post.”
After Bartelt’s basket, Stowers closed out the final 2:50 of the game with 10 points for the Tigers, which included going 6-of-6 at the free-throw line in the final 39 seconds.
Tecker finished with 24 points for Northwestern, and Stowers added 19. Also scoring for the Tigers were Mike Lindsay and Lupa with seven points each; Tanner Klobucher with three points; and Matt Lindsay and Bartelt with two points each.
Cummings led the Hurricanes with 21 points, despite strong defensive pressure from Northwestern. Zeigle scored 12 points in the second half to finish with 14 points, and Demetri Dennis added nine points for Hayward coming off the bench.
“This is one game and there’s a lot of year left,” Gustafson said. “Bloomer’s a great team, and Cumberland’s improved with some new players that enrolled at their school and gave Hayward a run, so there’s not any gimmes.”
Northwestern hosts Barron today and Chetek-Weyerhaeuser Tuesday. Both games begin at 7:15 p.m.
TIGER TALES: The past two seasons, the game between Northwestern and Hayward in Maple had gone into overtime. Hayward won last year, 68-65, and Northwestern won in 2014-15, 44-42. … Cummings entered Tuesday’s game averaging 31.5 points and 11 rebounds per game. Stowers led Northwestern with an average of 26.7 points per game.
Hayward.................................... 27 32 — 59
Northwestern.............................. 29 35 — 64
Hayward — Xavier Cummings 21, Phillip Zeigle 14, Demetri Dennis 9, Craig Burger 6, Gabe Luedke 5, Logan Solheim 2, William Zawistowski 2.
3-point goals — Burger 2, Zeigle 2, Cummings, Luedke.
Northwestern — Alex Tecker 24, Riley Stowers 19, Mike Lindsay 7, Anthony Lupa 7, Tanner Klobucher 3, Kade Bartelt 2, Matt Lindsay 2.
3-point goals — Lupa 2, Mike Lindsay, Klobucher.