Warriors outscore Northmont 27-9 in second quarter to pull away to win.
CLAYTON — Wayne proved on Friday it is again the frontrunner in the GWOC Central Division.
The defending Division I state champs entered Northmont’s new Thunderdome with one win after a late start due to the football team’s playoff run. The Thunderbolts had a 4-2 record entering the game and were looking for a marquee win on their new home floor. It looked possible after a close first quarter, but Wayne dominated the final three and won 88-64.
It was a dominating performance in every measurable area. The Warriors (2-0, 2-0 GWOC Central) led by 32 points at the end of the third quarter and pulled their starters for all the fourth. They outrebounded Northmont 40-15 and forced 16 Thunderbolt turnovers. Wayne shot 31-of-46 (67 percent) from the field and had five players score in double figures. Northmont shot 24-of-49 (49 percent) from the field.
The Warriors started the season with a 33-point win over Beavercreek last Friday. Their first two games have already proven they’re far ahead of the other five teams in the division. Centerville, the only other undefeated team left in the league, beat the Beavers (0-6) by six points on Friday night in league play. Springfield (4-2) lost to Centerville last week and beat Fairmont (1-3) by seven points on Friday.
Northmont head coach Collin Abels said Wayne is one of the best Division I teams in southwest Ohio.
“They’ve got a really good basketball team again,” Abels said. “You’re going to have to play a really good game to beat them. They’re very athletic and they’re very talented and they have a lot of depth.”
Northmont looked like it had the ability to beat (or at least play with) Wayne in the first quarter. After the Warriors jumped out to a 10-3 lead, Northmont closed the gap in the last four minutes by making a couple of steals and turning them into layups. Jabari Perkins scored on a layup after a steal with 10 seconds left in the first to cap off a 10-6 run and bring the Thunderbolts within three points at 16-13.
But it took Wayne only a few minutes to pull out to a double-digit lead in the second quarter after scoring on several put-back baskets. By the time Rodrick Caldwell hit a three with seven seconds left in the second to put Wayne up 43-22, Northmont was out of contention.
“We’re still trying to get back into shape after football’s success,” Wayne head coach Travis Trice said. “I kind of just let them play in the first quarter. We were really, really sloppy and had seven turnovers. Then we settled down and I thought we pushed the ball, set some on-ball screens and we had some guys playing well.”
Abels said Wayne pulled away because Northmont didn’t play well enough defensively in the post.
“The number one thing defensively we said was to keep them out of the paint,” Abels said. “I know, athletically, they’re tough. They’re very talented. It must be nice to get Division I guy after Division I guy after Division I guy that just shows up on your doorstep. I know it’s tough athletically at times, but still, that was the number one game plan defensively.
“I think the thing that freaked our kids out early was that they hit a couple of three’s early, and now they’re thinking, ‘Oh my God, now we’ve got to go chase.’ That’s exactly what (Wayne) wants you to do. They’re just going to play right through your chest in the paint and get offensive rebounds and do those types of things… It’s unfortunate we didn’t give them our best shot tonight.”
Wayne has several veteran players back from last season’s state champion team. Starters Trey Landers and Rodrick Caldwell return. Caldwell, who averaged 10 points per game last season, is back as the team’s point guard. Demond Parker also returns and is a starting guard after coming off the bench last season. L’Christian Smith, a 6-6 sophomore forward, also returns after backing up graduates Xeyrius Williams and Ahmad Wagner.
Smith, who was Wayne’s leading receiver in football this season, led the Warriors with 15 points on Friday. Caldwell added 13 points and had 11 assists, which Trice said was a key to Wayne’s offense. Parker scored 12 points off of four three-pointers, and Landers added 12.
“We’ve got four guys that could be Division I players (in college),” Trice said. “Then we’ve got other guys that could play basketball after high school (in lower divisions). I love the nucleus that we have. We’re just trying to get our bench organized and get them some experience. I think we could have a great year if we stick together and stay healthy.”
The Warriors also benefit from some new faces. None has made a bigger impact through the first two games than Chazz George, who transferred from Stivers. George scored 8 points on Friday, including a thunderous dunk in the third quarter. He also scored eight points and had four steals in Wayne’s opener against Beavercreek.
“I know he can do a lot more,” Trice said of George. “He’s just trying to figure out what we do right now. We do a lot of stuff that’s a little bit complex at times. We’re still trying to run plays and can’t run very much right now because some guys are trying to learn the system. That’s kind of messing with him and has him thinking a little bit more than just playing. With a few more games under his belt, I think he’ll loosen up a bit and we’ll see more things out of him.”
The Warriors have 14 players on the roster, and Trice said he’s confident many players on the bench can contribute. Kenny Couch, a 6-2 junior guard, stepped up off the bench against Northmont. Couch scored 10 points and added 12 rebounds. He’s a full-time varsity player this season after playing in four games last year.
“He’s a hustle player,” Trice said. “He’s got a nose for the rim and trying to get layups… He’s a guy that’s always around the basket. He gets his hands on a lot of loose balls and goes after rebounds. I was pretty pleased with the way he played tonight.”
Trice said that despite the 24-point margin of victory on Friday, the team didn’t play as well as it could have. He said there’s plenty for Wayne to work on in the next two weeks.
Friday was the start of a busy week leading up to Christmas for the Warriors. They play again tonight against Detroit East English Prep in Huber Heights, then host Fairborn on Monday and Fairmont on Wednesday. They then travel to Bristol, Tennessee and will play four games in the Arby’s Classic next Monday through Thursday.
“We’re not ready for this stretch coming up, and we know we’re not,” Trice said. “We’re going to do the best that we can and get rested. We’re going to focus on getting better each day. I’m not worried as much about the wins and losses right now as I am about us getting focused and figuring out each other as a team so that we can make a run later on.”
Vinson Walker led Northmont with 13 points, and Perkins added 11. Jason Biggs scored all 10 of his points in the second half, and Rodney Richardson scored 10.
The Thunderbolts will try to shake off Friday’s game at Belmont on Saturday night in its final game in 2015. Abels said he’s been pleased with the team’s progress but said they’ve played inconsistently. He said there’s a lot to fix before they play Wayne again on Feb. 2.
“We’ve got some things that are not even basketball-related that have got to get cleaned up in terms of how we carry and conduct ourselves,” Abels said. “We’ve got some X’s and O’s things that we’ve got to clean up as well. We’ve got to play together basketball instead of playing selfish basketball.”
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