Pressure got to the young Sandusky basketball team Friday night.
The Blue Streaks knew what they were up against at Norwalk in a Northern Ohio League game, but Sandusky had some bright moments in the first half.
But once the state-ranked Truckers turned up the defensive pressure, it was all downhill from there for Sandusky as Norwalk rolled to a 65-37 win. Norwalk (No. 6, Division II) improved to 11-0 overall and 5-0 in the NOL while extending its regular season winning streak to 54 games.
Meanwhile, Sandusky fell to 1-9 overall and 1-4 in the NOL.
“Norwalk is who they are. It's pretty self-explanatory,” Sandusky coach Dustin Sharp said. “Actually, I thought we did some good things in the first half. But to open the third quarter, their defensive pressure got to us and it was hard for us to execute.”
Norwalk opened the game on a 13-0 scoring run less than four minutes into the game, and things appeared over from the outset. Senior Jeff Thomas, who later in the game became the eighth player in Norwalk history to reach the 1,000-point milestone, blitzed the Streaks for 13 points in the quarter on 6-of-8 shooting.
Thomas, a Georgia State commit, punctuated the quarter by catching an alley-oop pass from Grant Hull that was thrown behind the volleyball line, then slammed it home as the Truckers took a 19-5 lead after the first quarter.
But early in the second, Sandusky clawed back to within 23-15 at the 5:17 mark as freshman Jayrese Williams fired in back-to-back 3-pointers.
But Norwalk quickly responded with an 10-0 scoring run in a matter of a 1:26 span to push the lead out to 33-15. The Truckers led 37-19 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Norwalk erased any hints of doubt by outscoring the Blue Streaks by a 23-6 margin to open up a convincing 60-25 lead entering the final eight minutes.
“We settled for a lot of jump shots and lost our aggressiveness,” Sharp said of the third quarter. “That's a lot of credit to Norwalk and their defensive intensity. That is just a very good team. I mean, it is what it is. They turned it on in the second half and it was a whole different ballgame after that.”
The only suspense left in the game was Thomas getting his 1,000th point, which he quickly did by adding another alley-oop dunk and a putback basket with 6:30 left in the game. After the game was stopped, he was quickly taken out with the rest of the starters.
“It's real exciting. I really didn't think I would get it today, but things really clicked,” Thomas said. “It's just an exciting feeling. I think we're doing pretty good as a team right now. At times we tend to slack off a little, but after halftime we've been able to really take it to teams in the third quarter, and we were able to do it again tonight.”
Norwalk coach Steve Gray said Friday's game was a classic case of Norwalk's veteran lineup facing a young Sandusky roster.
“I think Sandusky has a chance to be really good down the road,” he said. “I think tonight you saw a case of upperclassmen against underclassmen. But I thought they competed and played hard, and Dustin is doing a good job with them.”
For Sandusky, Williams finished with 13 points, while Deontra Palma added eight points and eight rebounds. Norwalk got a game-high 26 points from Thomas on 12-of-19 shooting, and he added eight rebounds.
“He had sort of taken a back seat the past couple games, and tonight he came out and took charge,” Gray said of Thomas. “He rebounded and defended well, and obviously shot the ball very efficiently.”
Hull added 11 points for the Truckers, while Ben Haraway had 10 points and Jordan Johnson added seven.
Sandusky is at Huron (5-3) tonight in a game rescheduled from Wednesday, while Norwalk hosts Div. I Lorain (5-5), one of the biggest schools in Ohio. The Titans are led by Devon Andrews, a Kent State commit.
“Lorain is on the schedule for the same reason we had Toledo Rogers last year,” Gray said. “We want to find out how good we are. Lorain, don't be mistaken by their record. They have great athletes who play above the rim and play an unbelievable schedule. If people want to see an exciting game, tonight would be a good one to watch.”