For a few minutes Friday, things were finally going right for Northwest’s boys.
The Grizzlies showed some spunk after surrendering the game’s first 16 points to host Heights. Their zone defense was active and their energy reached a crescendo when reserve guard Karol Williams hit an open three-pointer right before the halftime buzzer, causing Falcons coach Joe Auer to spin and whack his chair.
“I’ve been in that locker room enough times,” Northwest coach Bryan Chadwick said. “I knew he would have something to say.”
Chadwick, an assistant to Auer for 11 seasons prior to his April hiring by Northwest, anticipated a fierce rebuttal from Heights to start the second half. The Falcons, No. 1 in the Class 5A state coaches rankings, delivered it in the form of a 25-point third quarter and pulled away for a 66-34 victory.
“There’s definitely a lot to work on,” said Auer, who got 15 points from senior Semaj Hervey and 13 from junior reserve Jon Johnson. “But as a coach, if you win a City League game by 30 points, you better feel good about it.”
In Auer’s first experience coaching against a former basketball assistant, Heights (2-1, 2-1 City League) quickly displayed why it’s expected to be a 5A title contender in March. The Falcons’ 3-2 zone produced seven Northwest turnovers in the first quarter and an 0-for-8 shooting start. The Grizzlies didn’t score until Williams hit a three from the left wing with 13 seconds remaining in the opening quarter, making it 16-3.
“For multiple years, our kids would walk through fire for him,” Auer said of Chadwick, who greeted the Falcons’ starters with smiles, hugs and handshakes in pregame introductions. “I don’t know if that had anything to do with our energy level at the start.”
Northwest (1-2, 1-2), playing the second of four consecutive games against ranked City League teams, got within 18-10 on John Short’s jumper midway through the second quarter. But Heights, which had nine players score, pushed the advantage back to 18 points before the Grizzlies closed the half on a 6-2 run.
“When they were trying to pick up the tempo and when they weren’t playing to avoid a mistake, you could see the same energy level that Bryan brought to our program,” Auer said. “You could see his stamp all over it at times tonight.”
But after a spirited halftime talk from Auer, Heights controlled the rest of the game. Arie Johnson and Chris Lowe hit threes and Lowe added a layup off a Northwest turnover to make it 40-18. The Falcons outscored Northwest 25-9 in the third quarter for a 57-27, forcing the fourth to be played with a running clock.
When Northwest opened the final period in a man-to-man defense, Heights ran a set play in which Davon Gill caught a lob from Lowe for a dunk. It punctuated the Falcons’ second lopsided victory since a season-opening loss to Kapaun Mount Carmel.
“It wasn’t a situation where we walked off the floor against Kapaun feeling like we had played poorly,” said Auer, whose team finishes its pre-Christmas schedule Saturday against North. “It gave us a lot of things to work on, but we like where we’re at right now.”