Panthers edge Pilgrims in NLC match-up of unbeatens

PLYMOUTH — Even after a slow start, Plymouth had chances to put the Panthers away.
But instead, NorthWood’s defense pestered the Class 3A No. 9 Pilgrims into 12 turnovers for 12 points in the final two frames, and the Panthers stole a 69-63 overtime win in a Northern Lakes Conference opener between undefeated teams Friday night at The Rock.
“They stuck to their game plan a little bit better than us. We had a chance to build on our lead there a little bit at the end, but I think we had three straight possessions where we turned it over,” said Plymouth head basketball coach Ryan Bales. “Very uncharacteristic of an upperclass team. I thought we got a little bit too fast with the basketball. Instead of keeping our composure, slowing down, ripping the ball through, we just got shaky with it. They sensed it, they went after it, they started trapping. They were the aggressor, and that led to some easy points for them on the offensive end.”
After Mack Mercer’s lay-in from the baseline gave Plymouth its biggest lead of the night at 50-41 with just 4:24 left in regulation, the Panthers went on an 11-2 tear highlighted by five points from junior swing player Jonathan Wilkinson to even up the score at 52-all with 1:52 on the clock.
With the game still knotted up at 54-54, the Pilgrims were set to have the game’s final possession with a half-minute to play, but an untimely turnover with roughly three seconds remaining kept the home team from taking the last shot.
Kyle McCoy converted a steal into a traditional three-point play to start the extra period, giving NorthWood its first lead since the 3:46 stop of the second quarter and sparking a 9-2 run, and the Panthers held off their hosts to move to 5-0 on the year with a winning conference start.
“I think the momentum possibly swung in our direction, which, in high school basketball, can be huge. We were in the same defenses; we were just fortunate to get our hands on some balls,” said NorthWood head coach Aaron Wolfe.
“Any time that you play a Northern Lakes Conference game and you come away with the win, you feel like you’ve accomplished something, because we have that much respect for our conference,” he added. “Especially because Plymouth has always been a storied program throughout Indiana, and just to have the opportunity to come here and compete, I think that we relish that challenge.”
Wilkinson led three Panthers in double figures with 22 points — including nine in the fourth quarter as NorthWood rallied back to force the extra period — while Zach Zurcher added 14 and McCoy finished with 11. Along with his team-high points tally, Wilkinson distributed well with five assists behind McCoy’s game-high six.
“Jonathan is playing at a very high level for us right now,” said Wolfe. “He knocked down some shots down the stretch that were important, which gave us momentum in that fourth quarter. I think that he’s now starting to be able to create offense for his teammates, which is something that can really bode well for us in the future.”
“He gets down the floor extremely well; he covers a lot of ground, and their guards do a great job looking down the floor for him,” Bales said of Wilkinson. “But there were times where we saw it from the sideline where if we put our heads down and do what we’re supposed to do and find him in the paint initially then that takes care of a lot of it.
“They wanted it more. He wanted it and when he gets a head of steam going to the basket or he can shoot it in and shoot in space, he’s one of the best players in the conference.”
Mercer stuffed the stat sheet with a dual game-best double-double of 27 points — earned at a 10-of-15 field conversion clip and 6-of-8 shooting from the line — and 15 rebounds as well as four assists and two blocks.
Ike Kastner chipped in a season-high 13 points with three steals, and Joe Knapp put up 12 points for the Pilgrims, who slipped to 5-1 with their first loss of the year.
But it was David Lee’s all-around hustle that most impressed Bales as the senior guard finished with four steals and six assists to go with four points.
“I thought the one positive all night was David Lee. If he wasn’t in the first half we probably would’ve been down 10 points,” said the Plymouth boss. “He was out there all over the place. A lot of deflections, a lot of hustle plays; he was one of our guys that came ready to play, and even in the second half he was just fighting til the end. He played a tremendous game I thought despite the loss.”
The Pilgrims got off to a slow start at the NLC opener with 2-of-9 shooting in the first frame to fall behind 11-5 at the first quarter break. But Knapp’s wing triple on a Lee swing sparked a 15-11 second-quarter effort by the home team, and a Kastner 3 from the top of the key on an inside-out pass from Keyser McCrammer on the baseline gave the home team a tenuous 23-22 advantage at halftime.
Friday’s loss came on the tail end of a week where numerous Plymouth players were out with illness, but Bales downplayed the health issue after the game.
“We had all of our guys here tonight and all of our guys yesterday. Yeah, it would’ve been nice to have them all week, but you know what, that’s the way it goes,” he said. “You’re always going to have things that don’t go your way through the course of the season. I was very disappointed with our energy level to start the game. You give a team like that confidence, you let them hang around, you chance the outcome of the game. Yes, we had chances to win despite the first half; playing as poorly as we did we’re still up one at the half.”
Plymouth will look to bounce back Wednesday at Whitko. NorthWood plays in the Tippecanoe Valley Tournament beginning next Friday.
At Plymouth
Score by quarters
NorthWood: 11 22 35 54 69
Plymouth: 5 23 41 54 63
NORTHWOOD (69): Braxton Linville 0, Zach Zurcher 14, Tanner Farmwald 9, Tommy Klem 9, Kyle McCoy 11, Jonathan Wilkinson 22, Will Stueve 4; Totals: 22 19-28 69.
PLYMOUTH (63): Matt Flynn 2, Jack Barron 0, Joe Knapp 12, David Lee 4, Mack Mercer 27, Ike Kastner 13, Kyser McCrammer 0, Joshua Anders 0, Tom Felke 5; Totals: 24 8-12 63.
3-pointers: NorthWood 6 (Wilkinson 4, Farmwald 1, Klem 1), Plymouth 7 (Kastner 3, Knapp 2, Mercer 1); Rebounds: NorthWood 26 (Klem 8), Plymouth 29 (Mercer 15); Turnovers: NorthWood 13, Plymouth 21; Steals: NorthWood 12 (McCoy 5), Plymouth 9 (Lee 4); Assists: NorthWood 17 (McCoy 6, Wilkinson 5), Plymouth 16 (Lee 6); Fouls (fouled out): NorthWood 15 (none), Plymouth 24 (Knapp, Kastner, Felke).
Records: NorthWood 5-0 (1-0 NLC), Plymouth 5-1 (0-1 NLC).
JV score: NorthWood 42, Plymouth 39.