PENINSULA — When Woodridge boys basketball hosted Norton Friday, the Bulldogs already had the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division title in their back pocket.
However, the Panthers provided a different motivation for the Bulldogs, having beaten Woodridge the last three times the two teams met
"We consider them a rival," said Woodridge coach Ric Blevins. "When it’s February and it’s hard to get up for practice, you need motivation and they’ve provided it for us."
Woodridge avenged its lone loss in the Metro Division with a decisive 78-62 home win over Norton. Woodridge ran its winning streak to 10 games, improving to 16-4, 12-1 in the Metro Division. Norton dropped to 10-8, 8-5 in the Metro Division.
Blevins is a man-to-man defense evangelist, but he chose to have the Bulldogs play a 2-3 zone against a taller Panthers team. It worked to perfection in the first half.
"I thought it worked in the second half too. We just didn’t rebound as well," Blevins said. "I thought the first half was our best rebounding half of the season. We’ve got weaknesses. Any time you can hide them is good. My guys did a great job with their gap protection."
Norton coach B.J. Sanderson said his team got outworked by the Bulldogs.
"Tonight, we didn’t get after it," Sanderson said. "They deserved to win tonight. We got outhustled, we got outworked, we got beat to every loose ball and they hit just about every shot.
"We got punched in the mouth early and we weren’t able to respond," Sanderson added. "That’s part of the learning process."
On its Senior Night, the Bulldogs’ senior class came to play. Guard Michael Massey was on fire early, hitting four 3-pointers in the first quarter. Massey finished with 17 points, all of which came before halftime.
Up 24-13 after one quarter, Woodridge got a big boost off the bench form senior guard Jabron Driskill. Driskill showed every facet of his game, hitting outside shots, rebounding and and diving for loose balls. He finished with a game-high 18 points and five rebounds.
"I thought Jabron played a great game for us," Blevins said. "He was out there playing defense and he hit some big shots for us."
"I just wanted to play hard because it was my last game here," Driskill said. "We had lost to them the last three times, so I wanted to get after it."
Woodridge switched to the zone to try to deal with Panther forward Phillip Wallace, who lit up the Bulldogs for 31 points in their first meeting. Wallace finished with a team-high 17 points and eight rebounds for the Panthers, but largely a non-factor until the fourth quarter.
"I’ve seen that guy dominate against teams our size in the post," Blevins said. "I don’t think he got too many post looks tonight. If he has to go outside to get his shots, I’m fine with that."
Down 38-20 at the half, Sanderson told his troops to up the intensity in the second half.
Norton was able to cut into the deficit, thanks to some good work by guard Tyler Scott (10 points) and forward Nate Dobber, but the gap never closed below 10 points.
"It just came down to making hustle plays and being aggressive," Sanderson said. "It can’t be part time for us. I can’t call timeout after every run they make."
"They made a couple runs in the second half and we were able to answer every one of them." Blevins said.
"I think we’re playing some of our best basketball right now, but we still could be better," he added. "I’d love to go into the playoffs on a 12-game win streak, instead of a one or none."
Senior guard D.J. Snyder chipped in 12 points for Woodridge, while senior Dominick Reinart had 13 for the Panthers.