Norwalk's 57-game regular season streak stopped

No. 1 Norwalk edged by No. 5 Ontario in battle of unbeatens
Mark Hazelwood
Jan 30, 2014

It's time to officially press the reset button.

In a frigid Wednesday night Northern Ohio League game, the Norwalk basketball team ran into a hot shooting Ontario team, and piled several missed shots at close-range and uncharacteristic turnovers into the wrong night.

The end result was an early 13-point deficit, which proved to be just a bit too much in the second half of a 63-61 loss to the Warriors. The Truckers (14-1, 6-1) will fall from the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press Division II poll, while the No. 5 Warriors (15-0, 7-0) will move up.

The consecutive regular season winning streak also came to a final number of 57 for Norwalk, which will go down as the ninth-longest in Ohio history.

"This team has never been about the streak," Norwalk coach Steve Gray said. "They are about competing and getting better after every practice and every game. Sports builds character. And we're going to have a great practice (today) and a great practice on Friday, and we're going to give a great effort on Saturday (at Willard). I don't know if we'll win, but we'll give a great effort."

Trailing 58-51 without possession of the ball with just over five minutes to go, things looked bleak for the Truckers. But two baskets by Jordan Johnson, and a layup from Breck Turner after a steal allowed Norwalk to trim the deficit to 59-57 with 3:47 left.

Brandon Wagner hit a pair of free throws to put the Warriors up 61-57, but again the Truckers came back with back-to-back baskets from Ben Haraway and Jeff Thomas, which tied the game at 61 with 2:19 left.

Norwalk then forced another turnover and had a chance to take the lead, but couldn't capitalize. After another Ontario possession came up empty, Norwalk had another chance at the lead, but a forced turnover gave Ontario the ball back.

That set up Cameron Mack to split a pair of free throws with 1:13 left for a 62-61 lead. With less than a minute to go in the game, Thomas pulled up for a mid-range jumper with just under 20 seconds to go, but it spun around the rim and out.

Ontario's Tyler Boatwright got the rebound and was fouled, and split a pair of free throws with 14.7 seconds left for a 63-61 lead. That set up Norwalk for one final shot, and Haraway broke for the basket with under six seconds left and found an opening, but again the ball did everything but fall in.

The Warriors were then fouled with just 1.9 seconds left, and missed both free throws, but a 60-foot heave by Thomas had not chance as time expired, giving Norwalk its first loss since Feb. 19, 2011 (55-52 vs. Huron).

Ontario had opened the game on fire, led by Mack. He connected on his first five shots from the floor, and the Warriors opened up 9 for 9 before finally missing, which led to a 21-8 lead with 1:48 left in the first quarter.

Norwalk then trailed 23-13 at the end of the first quarter, but had trimmed the deficit to 37-33 by halftime with a 20-14 scoring advantage in the second quarter.

Trailing 43-41, the Truckers got their first and what proved to be their only lead of the night when Grant Hull buried a 3-pointer for a 44-43 lead with two minutes left in the quarter. But in perhaps the key sequence of the game, the Warriors responded with an 8-0 run, including a deep 3-pointer from Boatwright, which allowed them to go back up 51-44.

It was 51-46 entering the fourth, and eventually the lead grew to seven points twice at 53-46 and 58-51 before the Truckers made one final run.

"The start was obviously disappointing," Gray said. "They hit some big shots and Mack was just unbelievable tonight and did an outstanding job. But I knew they'd come back to us and we'd have a chance. We just had to hang in there one possession at a time, and we had a chance.
"Unfortunately, the ball didn't drop for us when we needed it to," he added. "Ben and Jeff both got good looks, but unfortunately it just didn't fall."

Thomas led Norwalk with 23 points and 13 rebounds, while Haraway added 15 points. Johnson contributed 10 points and Turner added eight.

"I thought Jeff was outstanding tonight," Gray said. "Not just with his scoring, but his rebounding and his ability to go after the basketball."

Asked if this was a chance for his team to start over without the weight of the streak and a No. 1 ranking, Gray only vowed his team would get better.

"I'm not a big believer in a loss helps somebody," he said. "I think you can learn just as much from a win. But I think the thing we found out tonight is, we have to do the little things, both offensively and defensively.
"Tonight we didn't do that, and we'll get better," he added. "But I'm so proud of these kids. Let's not forget we've won 57 of our last 58. They should make Norwalk proud."