But once the Norwalk boys basketball team found its rhythm, the Truckers were able to steadily wear down visiting Mansfield Madison in the second half of a 55-43 win on Saturday at Norwalk High School.
Playing for the first time this season, the Truckers trailed 21-17 at halftime. But the second half saw Norwalk score 38 points as it held a massive edge in rebounds (40-23) in the victory.
“The ball was sticking so much in the first half, and it’s because we just weren’t making the extra pass,” Norwalk coach Steve Gray said. “We talked about ball movement and looking inside — and understanding what a good three-point attempt is.
“I think we should take maybe 16-to-18 of them in a game, but they are three’s off kicking it back off court reversals and skip passes — and we weren’t getting those types of them in the first half,” he added. “But I think our strength inside just sort of wore them down in the second half.”
The Truckers trailed the Rams (1-2) by a 24-18 score less than a minute into the third quarter. That’s when Garrett Obringer and Garrett Chapin each scored back-to-back baskets that began a 12-0 scoring run over a 3:09 stretch.
Ryan Sowders followed with a basket off a steal in transition to tie the game, then Garrett Obringer and Will Gehlhausen sank consecutive 3-pointers to make it a 30-24 lead. Gehlhausen added a jumper from the right wing to put the Truckers up 32-24 with 3:56 left in the third.
But Madison’s ability to connect on 3s kept the game within reach until inside of five minutes was left.
Norwalk led 36-27 after an Andrew Mozina basket with 1:29 left in the third, but Madison’s Isaac Brooks drilled a 3 just 20 seconds later, trimming the deficit to 36-30 through three quarters.
Luke Pruitt opened the scoring for the Rams in the fourth with a triple, and when Obringer answered with a basket inside, it was Pruitt again from deep to make it a 39-36 deficit with 6:12 left.
A similar sequence then followed, as Garrett Chapin scored down low — only to see the Rams’ Jayondrae Jones make one of his three 3s for a 41-39 margin with 5:32 left in the game.
But after consecutive timeouts to discuss defensive strategy, the Truckers put the game away.
Gehlhausen made his second triple to put the Truckers back up five (44-39), then Chapin followed with a basket — then an emphatic three-point play the old-fashioned way after he muscled inside for two points and added the free throw.
That put the Truckers up 49-40 with 3:49 left. The Rams drew no closer than eight points down the stretch as baskets by Sowders and Obringer, allong with two free throws by Gehlhausen put the game away.
The Rams were 9-of-28 from beyond the arc for the game.
“It was the first game, and our ability to help and recover was too slow,” Gray said. “When you have a spot shooter, when he catches the ball you’ve got to be there and dead-on catch. We were a half-step slow on all that, but it’s the first game and we have some kids who have had their roles change from last year, and some kids who weren’t on varsity last year.
“To be quite honest, we haven’t had a full team in a practice the entire preseason for various injuries and football,” he added. “I just hope they are patient with themselves, because we are, and they are talented kids.”
Chapin had 16 points and eight rebounds on 6-of-12 shooting to pace Norwalk, with Obringer adding 15 points, eight rebounds and three assists on a 7-of-13 shooting night. Gehlhausen added 10 points and six rebounds, while Sowders had four points, five rebounds and six assists.
Kyler Lacy added four points and six rebounds for the Truckers, who face a stern test on Tuesday at Shelby (2-0) in a non-league matchup. Gray said it will be a good look from a Whippets team that gets up and down the floor before the Truckers host Perkins and Keystone on Friday and Saturday.
“They have such a different style of play, and I don’t know if we’ll be able to run many sets because they’ll press the entire game,” Gray said of Shelby. “TJ Pugh could be one of the top two or three kids we play in terms of offensive ability. We’re going to have our hands full.”
Norwalk’s junior varsity team also opened with a win, topping the Rams by a 42-30 score. Aiden Yoder scored 11 points and had four rebounds for the JV Truckers, while Caleb Sommers had 10 points, six rebounds and three steals, and Drew Shope had nine points and four steals.
MANSFIELD MADISON (1-2)
Jayondrae Jones 3-0—9; Isaac Brooks 2-0—6; Levi Zehner 0-1—1; Dylan Metz 3-0—7; Tyler Tackett 3-5—11; Luke Pruitt 2-0—6; Steven Williams 1-0—3. TOTALS 14-6—43.
Garrett Chapin 6-4—16; Garrett Obringer 7-0—15; Will Gehlhausen 3-2—10; Kyler Lacy 2-0—4; Ryan Sowders 2-0—4; Andrew Mozina 2-0—4; Daniel Traczek 1-0—2. TOTALS 14-6—55.
Madison 12 9 9 13 — 43
Norwalk. 9 8 19 19 — 55
3-point FGs: (M) Jones 3, Brooks 2, Pruitt 2, Metz, Williams; (N) Gehlhausen 2, Obringer
JV: Norwalk, 42-30