SOUTH WHITLEY — Statistics truly can tell the story of a ball game, provided that you get the right set of statistics.
For example, through three quarters in Friday night’s Three Rivers Conference boys’ basketball match-up between the host Whitko Wildcats and the Northfield Norsemen, the visitors were shooting a blistering 63 percent from the field compared to 45 percent for the Wildcats.
With those statistics you might expect the Wildcats to be trailing by a sizeable margin. However appearances would be deceiving, as the combination of a stingy Wildcat defense and a slowdown offense by Northfield limited the Norse to half as many shots allowing the host Wildcats to build a 15-point lead on the way to a 49-35 win.
“We didn’t play badly,” Whitko head coach Rob Irwin said. “They forced us to come out after them, because they were going to hold the ball on us, and some of the shots that they did get were because we were pressing and trapping on them.”
The visiting Norsemen broke on top 4-0 and shot 75 percent from the field in the first quarter, but their slower offensive pace and a Whitko defense that forced eight first-quarter turnovers limited them to only four shots from the field.
The Wildcats tied the score at 6-6 on a basket by guard Logan Irwin and went up for good at 9-6 on a three-point shot by senior Mitch Yeager. The Wildcats finished the first quarter leading 11-6.
The ‘Cats extended the lead in the second quarter outscoring the visitors 15-8 behind seven points from Irwin and three pointers from Yeager and sophomore guard Alex Stoddard to take a 26-14 lead at halftime.
The Wildcats lost the services of senior Max Elder for the night during the second quarter when the six-foot-four-inch forward went down with an apparent ankle injury in a scuffle in the offensive lane.
Whitko began the second half with a bang when senior Zac VanDeWater took a pass, drove the baseline to throw down a dunk to start the third period.
Irwin went 4-for-4 from the free throw line, with VanDeWater and junior Derek Snep both working inside to add four points apiece to help the Wildcats to a 40-25 lead at the end of three quarters.
In the fourth quarter, the nemesis of poor free throw shooting that has cost the Wildcats in the past resurfaced.
The Wildcats missed 6-of-7 attempts from the stripe, including the front end of three one and one situations.
“The bottom line is that you have to make free throws when they count,” Irwin said. “We lost two games because we didn’t make free throws when it counted. Fortunately, tonight we were up far enough that it didn’t hurt us.”
The Wildcats were able to force four Northfield turnovers while getting baskets from Irwin and Snep and five points from VanDeWater in the fourth quarter to seal the 49-35 win.
Irwin led the Wildcats with 19 points, with VanDeWater tossing in 13. VanDeWater also pulled down 10 rebounds to lead the Wildcats in that category.
The win keeps the Wildcats perfect in the Three Rivers Conference at 4-0 and raises their record to 10-2 overall heading.