Following his team’s first loss in two months, Norwalk coach Steve Gray was asked if there was any concern about Tuesday’s 57-40 defeat vs. Oregon Cardinal Stritch having a lasting effect.
“No, not at all,” Gray said quickly. “We told the kids to think about this game until 9 p.m. (Tuesday), and then let’s think about what’s important on Friday at Sandusky.”
What’s important is the opportunity to win a league championship for the first time in five years. The Truckers (16-3, 7-1) can clinch at least a share of the SBC Lake Division title with a win over the Blue Streaks (11-6, 6-1) on Friday in Sandusky.
A loss, however, not only prevents Norwalk from a title share, but would also knock it out of first place in the process. Sandusky hosts Clyde (10-8, 5-2) next Wednesday and visits Perkins (10-9, 4-5) next Friday. The Truckers close the regular season and league schedule at Bellevue (6-12, 2-6), also next Friday.
The Truckers dominated the first meeting, 74-55, at home on Jan. 5. Gray isn’t expecting anything close to that on Friday.
“We expect a great game,” he said. “It’s going to be a close game. We’re going to have to do a lot of little things well to be successful.”
Norwalk senior guard Brandon Haraway, who became the 10th player in program history to reach 1,000 points in Tuesday’s loss, said the Truckers will be ready for the road challenge.
“We know we’re going to have to go in there and compete,” Haraway said. “It’s not just going to be handed to us. It’s going to be a tough game, and we’re ready for it. We’ll prepare the rest of the week for it, and go in there with our heads high knowing that if we can go home with a win, we can also win a championship.”
Sandusky is led by junior guard Dylon Jones, who averages 16.9 points per game, third-best in the Lake. He adds 3.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Junior guard Tahj Staveskie is right behind him, averaging 16 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.2 steals per contest.
Also for the Streaks, Jayden Greene contributes 8.7 points and 3.6 assists, and William Simpson adds 6.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
Gray noted that if anything, facing the athleticism and talent of Cardinal Stritch on Tuesday is better preparation than any practice can give his team for Friday.
“Sandusky is good. But the biggest difference between them and Cardinal Stritch is two inches and 25 pounds per player,” Gray said. “Tuesday was just great for us in that regard.”
For Norwalk, Haraway averages 20.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.9 steals per game. He is first in the Lake in scoring and steals, and third in rebounds, assists and blocks (0.6).
Also for the Truckers, Garrett Chapin adds 9.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per contest, while Garrett Obringer contributes 6.8 points and 4.5 rebounds, and Kyler Lacy averages 5.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
As a team, Sandusky averages 67.2 points for and 61.4 against. Those numbers shift to 69.9 points for and 56.4 points allowed in seven SBC Lake games.
Meanwhile, Norwalk averages 57.2 points per game and allows 48.2. In eight league games, the Truckers are scoring 56.1 points while allowing just 46 points per game.
Those are the best defensive team numbers by far in league play, and the Truckers will have to do it again on Friday to win. In Tuesday’s loss, the 57 points allowed to Stritch (16-3) was its lowest point total in any win, and 12 points under the Cardinals’ season average.
“Sometimes when we get behind, we have to learn how to compete an get back,” Haraway said of Tuesday’s loss. Like, at the end of the third quarter we competed back and got within seven points (after trailing by 17) and had a chance to get even closer.
“That’s what we like. That’s what gave us energy, and that’s what’s fun about it,” he added. “We’ve learned that we’re going to have to compete for what we earn.”
Gray said the biggest difference between Sandusky from five-plus weeks ago to now is the rotation for head coach Colin Irish has expanded.
“He’s playing more kids now. I saw them last week and they played 13 kids,” he said. “We just have to be locked in on who their scorers are and who can dribble penetrate. We have got to know who we are guarding and what their strengths are.
“That’s a big concern, when you have 13 players to account for,” Gray added. “You don’t want to overload your kids with information, but at the same time, they need to know what is going on.”