On a night rare Ohio basketball history was made, it was only fitting Norwalk's dynamic duo took charge.
Seniors Ben Haraway and Jeff Thomas scored the Truckers' first 22 points Saturday night — 11 each — to set the tone for a 74-43 blowout of Tiffin Columbian in a Northern Ohio League game.
The win was the 50th straight regular season win by Norwalk, which is the 10th longest streak in the history of Ohio high school boys basketball. The OHSAA recognizes winning streaks of 50 or more in its record book, putting Norwalk (7-0, 2-0) on an elite short list for decades to come.
Thomas, a Georgia State recruit, finished with a game-high 26 points on 9-of-13 shooting and grabbed five rebounds. Haraway, a Malone recruit, finished with 20 points and nine assists.
The streak started in the regular season finale of the 2010-11 season, when Haraway and Thomas were freshmen helping guide the Truckers to the first NOL title at Norwalk in 49 years with a 55-45 win at Fostoria.
“It feels great to be a part of,” Thomas said of the historic win. “Tonight honestly was when it really hit me that we were going to get in the record books forever. We're aware of the streak, but don't really talk about it a lot.
“We'd obviously like to keep it going, but it could end at any moment,” he added. “I feel like these last four years have been really special to keep this thing alive for as long as we have.”
Thomas and Haraway scored the game's first nine points in less than two minutes, quickly erasing any doubts of a Columbian (3-3, 1-2) upset bid. Eventually, the two had outscored the Tornadoes 22-5 at the 2:30 mark of the opening quarter, and it wasn't until teammate Breck Turner hit a pair of free throws at the 1:58 mark that another player scored for the Truckers.
The quarter was highlighted by Haraway driving to his right and getting three defenders to drift towards him. He then fired a one-handed pass between the opponents to a waiting Thomas underneath the basket, who scored and was fouled, and added the free throw.
“We shot the ball exceptionally well, and when we're moving the ball inside in transition and being unselfish, we're a pretty good team,” Norwalk coach Steve Gray said. “The thing we are really good at is creating offense with our defense, and I thought Jordan (Johnson) and Breck also played big roles in that too.”
Haraway, who can be the only player in NOL history to lead the league in assists four straight seasons, said they are reminded of the streak every day.
“But it's not something that is a burden or is a distraction,” he said. “We've taken things one day at a time and work hard every day in practice. Coach Gray tells us it will play off, and it always does.”
Leading 27-8 after the first quarter, the Truckers opened the second with a 17-2 run to swell the lead to 44-10. Grant Hull hit a pair of 3-pointers in that span, and Thomas also had back-to-back baskets.
Like any coach, Gray constantly downplays things with his team. But this week, the longtime coach acknowledged the history that awaited his team.
“He said to treat it like every game and keep working hard,” Haraway said of his coach's message. “I'm really proud of my teammates and myself. I know we worked hard for this, and it's been a fun ride so far.”
Gray knew talent was coming up through the program, but could have never dreamed a run like this.
“When this started, we had no idea,” he said. “When Ben and Jeff were eighth-graders, we knew they were good, but no idea they'd be this good. It's just been a great run. One thing we did talk about though, is we don't want it to end next week.”
Hull added 15 points on five 3-pointers, while Turner finished with seven points and nine rebounds.
“It's good for the community and our team,” Hull said of the streak. “It's a byproduct of the hard work everyone has put in these last three years. We talk about it a little, but not too much. We try not to blow it out of proportion. We take it game-by-game and practice-by-practice, and it will all take care of itself.”
Norwalk will host Willard (6-2, 2-1) on Friday in a key early-season NOL matchup. With a night to reflect on a historic streak, Gray said it now goes back to the rearview mirror.
“We never really talked about the streak until last week,” he said. “Our goal was never to win 50 straight, but to hopefully get a fourth straight NOL championship, and we need to go farther in the tournament.”