It was an uncharacteristic night for the Northwestern High School boys basketball team Thursday when the Tigers hosted Bloomer.
The game got off to an unusual start when sophomore Steve Tecker picked up three personal fouls just four and a half minutes into the game. Dan Cowley, head coach of the Tigers, said seeing Tecker in foul trouble was a rarity. According to Cowley, Tecker has only been in foul trouble in one other game since he began starting for Northwestern as a freshman.
Another abnormality for the Tigers early in the game was poor free throw shooting. In the first half, Northwestern made 1-of-8 shots from the free throw line.
"We're shooting almost 70 percent from the free throw line this year," Cowley said. "Actually it's my best free throw shooting team in years as far as percentages go. It's just one of those games where we didn't get rolling, and it took quite a while to get rolling."
Despite the rough start, Northwestern managed to rally in the second half and went on to defeat Bloomer 49-42. The Tigers are now 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the Heart O' North Conference.
"It wasn't a typical day," said P.J. Freeman, a senior and one of the Tigers' team captains. "We got some open looks but they just didn't go in. We didn't play a bad first half (the shots) just didn't go in."
The Tigers managed to make a few runs in the first half to threaten Bloomer, pulling within two points with about three minutes left in the second quarter. By halftime, however, the Tigers had yet to lead and trailed the Blackhawks 19-13.
"Offensively it was very ugly," Cowley said. "The first half we did miss Stevie out there when he left. He does so much, and it's not so much that he's got to score or rebound but he has kind of a calming effect and he helps the offense flow a little bit better. He sees the open guy well and is leading our team in assists as well as a lot of other categories."
While struggling on offense, Northwestern was able to stay in the game with its defense.
"I guess the positives you've got to look at are we played good defense in the first half, good enough to keep ourselves in it," Cowley said. "That's really what I would credit our win to."
Northwestern came out in a zone to start the second half, and Cowley said that was the only time the Tigers' defense really faltered.
"We switched to a zone to protect Steve, so they couldn't take Steve down low and he wouldn't pick up another foul," said Donnie Hissa, a sophomore on the Northwestern team.
The Blackhawks were able to hit some 3-point shots against Northwestern's zone, and took a 27-18 lead with 5:32 left to play in the third quarter. Once the Tigers changed back to man-to-man defense, however, the momentum of the game shifted.
"Once we got in a position where we could play the way we normally do defensively, at that point we started to get some stops," Cowley said. "I thought the kids did a good job not getting frustrated despite the fact things weren't going their way a good part of the game."
Things started going the Tigers' way when Hissa went up for a shot in a crowd and made the basket to cut Bloomer's lead to five. Less than a minute later sophomore Lee Brown hit a shot that shifted the momentum of the game, as he sunk a 3-pointer to make it 29-27.
"We just kept shooting and we knew eventually they would go in," Hissa said of the Tigers' second-half comeback.
Northwestern took its first lead of the game at 2:43 in the fourth quarter on a turnaround shot by Tecker. After that the Tigers never trailed and won, 49-42.
"I was proud of how they came out in the second half, and things did start to improve as far as ball movement," Cowley said. "Shots went in, and we started to get some inside play. We got it into Donnie a little bit and he got some boards and putbacks."
Hissa finished the game with a double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Tecker led the Tigers with 14 points and five assists, while Freeman added seven points and four assists. Brown finished with six points, and Mike Lindsey and Aaron Corry had five points each.
Sophomore Grady Loew was Bloomer's top scorer with 10 points, including two 3-pointers.
The Tigers improved from the free throw line in the second half, in which they made 12-of-17 shots. Northwestern finished the game making 13-of-25 shots.
"I think one thing they've got to learn is they've got to value the basketball a little bit more and make sure they're getting a good shot," Cowley said of the Tigers. "They are good shooters and they are good offensive players, but you're not as good if you're not taking quality shots and moving the ball and getting each other shots. Some of that you've got to credit to Bloomer because they do run a good zone and they're big; they take away a lot of easy passes a lot of the time."
Still, Cowley thought the Tigers had a number of wasted possessions against Bloomer, something Northwestern will need to change as the season goes on.
"The better the team you play, the fewer times you get away with that," Cowley said.
Northwestern is back in action Jan. 4 at Chetek.