The Northwestern Tigers boys basketball team sprinted to an early lead and coasted to an 86-40 home victory against the Chetek-Weyerhaeuser Bulldogs on Thursday, Jan. 7.
The Tigers (6-2) forced four turnovers in the first two minutes with their smothering zone press. About midway through the first half, Northwestern held an 11-to-3 edge in turnovers forced.
“We take pride in playing physical and fast, and we like to get after teams in the full court,” said Northwestern coach Nolan Graff. “We like to trap and create a lot of havoc.”
That havoc created easy baskets in transition for the Tigers, who started the game with an 11-0 run sparked by junior guard Monte Mayberry. He led the game with 20 points.
“We just had to get our guys adjusted to the speed and the intensity,” Bulldogs coach Hans Olson said. “Sometimes (Northwestern) cut so hard, I felt like our guys were on skates.”
“Coach Graff does a good job with them. They’re a good, athletic, strong, fundamental team. All the credit to them.”
The Tigers kept tightening the screws, eventually building a 37-6 lead midway through the first half. Five Northwestern players scored in double digits Thursday night.
“We’ve had a different leading scorer in almost every game,” Graff said. “We’re a balanced team. We feel that anybody (in our top) eight could lead us in scoring, and that makes us hard to defend.”
The Bulldogs tried to get back into the game from behind the 3-point line, going 1-for-13 from long range in the first half. Junior Ashton Kummet made the Bulldogs’ lone 3-pointer of the half and led the Bulldogs with 12 points for the game.
Olson said the long ball is a big part of his team’s offensive strategy. “We do not have a ton of size, so yes, it is our plan to get up 30, 35 3s a game. And (tonight) is the way it’s going to go if we don’t shoot well.”
Northwestern led 59-20 at halftime, and they quickly extinguished any chance of a second-half comeback by not allowing a field goal for the first five minutes after the break.
By that point in the game, the Tigers had amassed a nearly 50-point lead, and new faces from deep on the bench had appeared, complete with spirited celebrations from fans and players as younger players saw game action.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve told the guys that if they’re on the bench, they need to be engaged in the game, so they don’t come in flat,” Graff said. “Tonight, (sophomore) Bryce Oswskey got his first varsity points — we’re pretty happy about that, and obviously the guys were going pretty wild.”
They weren’t the only ones. Thursday was Northwestern’s first home game of the season that allowed spectators from the general public. About 100 fans dotted the gym in Maple, all in masks, spaced apart in the plastic bleachers.
Graff welcomed the energy. “Seeing some students and seeing some faces out there was a good feeling,” he said. “The guys are really happy about it, and I’m happy for them.”