Yet as it stands, it was a play that has defined not only the season through two months, but also the strongest characteristic of the Norwalk boys basketball team.
In a Jan. 25 game vs. Perkins, the Truckers had not only seen a 10-point lead (45-35) with 3:30 left disappear, but they also didn’t have possession of the ball and only 42 seconds remaining in a 46-46 game.
But just as soon as the Pirates had a chance to win, Norwalk took it away. Ryan Sowders and Austin Brown were able to double-team and trap the Perkins ball handler — and the Pirates were out of timeouts. Forced to pass the ball, it was errant and went out of bounds.
That gave the Truckers the ball back, and allowed Brandon Haraway to find Garrett Chapin for an easy basket with 9.2 seconds left. Because of the forced turnover, the Truckers had survived a 49-46 win to improve to 13-2 overall and 7-1 in the SBC Lake Division.
“They did a great job of walling off the ball handler, most importantly, without fouling,” Norwalk coach Steve Gray said of the play. “Their hands were high, they did everything right, and we got a turnover.”
Now 15 games into the season, there is little secret as to why the Truckers have won 11 straight games entering Saturday’s non-league game vs. Port Clinton, and why they are in first place with two league games remaining.
Norwalk is allowing 47.9 points per game overall, and 46 points per contest in Lake Division games. Both those marks are best among the six league teams. The 46 points per game over eight league games is four points better than the second-best (Perkins, 50.1) — and 6.3-to-17 points better than the remaining four teams (Clyde, Bellevue, Sandusky, Columbian).
In the opening loss of the season at Huron, Norwalk allowed just 44 points. Only five opponents have scored 50-plus points against the Truckers. Just Clyde (61-60 defeat on Dec. 14) and South Central (76-69 win on Dec. 29) have scored 60 or more points.
That was with the Fliers hitting a last-second 3-pointer to break 60, and the Trojans scoring 10 points in the four-minute overtime.
“You look at it, and when something goes through the hoop, you almost celebrate that you finally scored,” Clyde coach Ryan Fretz said after a 54-46 loss at Norwalk on Jan. 18. They just do a great job of closing out and knowing who our scorers are.”
Perkins coach Scott McVeigh has the Pirates allowing 48.4 points per game overall, and 50.1 in league games as the No. 2-ranked defense. Not surprisingly, those have been two of Norwalk’s tougher games this season, winning 50-49 (Dec. 20) and last Friday’s 49-46 win.
"Their ball pressure and ability to disrupt the passing lanes stands out,” McVeigh said of the Truckers. “And for everything Haraway is offensively, he's also a heck of a defender. They do a nice job of taking away your best player and making other guys beat them.”
For their part, there is no magic theory or secret to the Norwalk defensive success.
“We all just work hard and get to our spots, especially on help side defense,” Brown said. “We always have to stay disciplined. A lot of times it's really hard when another person drives in to stay on the midline, and then approach with your hands up. We always just have to stay mentally tough, even when we're tired.”
One key, however, is Gray noted about 55-to-60 percent of an average practice is spent on defense.
“Coach (Tom) Foster, (Nick) Lee and (Wes) Sellers are unbelievable in terms of breaking down what we need to do defensively to be successful,” he said. “Coach Foster went over every screen imaginable (last) week. It was about how are we going to guard a double pick, a down pick, a flare ... we spend a lot of times working on how we're going to guard certain actions on the floor.
“I think the key to our success defensively is our assistant coaches,” he added.
Chapin said the players know defense is the team identity, even though it boasts the SBC’s top offensive threat in Haraway as well.
"It's our heart. It's our identity. We all come together on the defensive end,” he said. “We know our defense leads to offense. It’s nothing specific or anything extra ... just basic defensive knowledge of knowing each situation and opponent."
The Truckers average 57 points per game, and last Saturday’s 62-44 win vs. Ontario was the start of a quirk in the schedule that shows five consecutive non-league games. Norwalk will head to Sandusky (9-4, 5-1) on Feb. 15 with a chance to clinch a share of the Lake Division title, then closes out the regular season at Bellevue on Feb. 22.
“We really do take it one game at a time,” Gray said. “In 2014, all we ever talked about was being in a two-game tournament. It was never about winning a district, regional or state. It was about winning the two games in front of us to advance.
“We never get ahead of ourselves because we put enough pressure on ourselves to get better,” he added. “These next two weeks, if they don't get us ready for Sandusky, something is wrong."
Brown added the Truckers need to stay focused on another daily item that is discussed in practice.
“Coach Foster always says to try and get better by one percent every day,” he said. “And I think we just need to stay focused on that, and over time we'll be ready to play for a league championship when that time comes around."
SBC Lake points allowed
Norwalk’s defense has been atop the SBC Lake Division all season in points allowed per game. Below is a look at all six defensive averages in regular season and league games.
1. Norwalk 46.0 47.9
2. Perkins 50.1 48.4
3. Clyde 52.3 54.2
4. Bellevue 58.7 55.2
5. Sandusky 59.8 61.4
6. Columbian 63.0 65.3
Norwalk SBC Lake results
With a 7-1 record in league games, the Norwalk defense is allowing just 46 points per game against the five Lake Division opponents:
Dec. 7: vs. Columbian, won 54-42
Dec. 14: at Clyde, lost 61-60
Dec. 20: at Perkins, won 50-49
Jan. 5: vs. Sandusky, won 74-55
Jan. 11: vs. Bellevue, won 56-30
Jan. 15: at Columbian, won 52-39
Jan. 18: vs. Clyde, won 54-46
Jan. 25: vs. Perkins, won 49-46