When the Northview Knights walked off the court in New Castle at the Hall of Fame Classic, they left everything they had on that floor.
If you needed any proof of that fact, you need not have looked any farther than the site of the Knight's final shot of the game. There lie Northview senior Logan Whitman, soaked in sweat, exhausted after a pair of hard fought battles within the space of hours. His final shot, a 3-pointer from the side of the arc clanged out as the Knights dropped an 80-78 contest to the top-ranked single-A school in the state, White River Valley. That defeat came after the Knights only other loss on the season, a 76-64 war with Class 4A's top-ranked Lawrence North Wildcats.
All in all a pretty tough way to spend an afternoon. But according to coach Mitch Lancaster, the two contests should provide benefits later this year.
"Even though we lost the games, playing in that sort of atmosphere, in a legendary gym should make us a better team," said Lancaster. "I expect us to be a better team because of it."
Both teams that the Knights faced in the Hall of Fame Classic came into the tournament unbeaten, the Wolverines dropped their opening game of the tourney to Columbia City before facing the Knights. What Northview got was a team that caught fire at just the wrong time for the Knights.
"(White River Valley guard A.J.) Graves was just on fire that night," said Lancaster. "He had only hit nine 3-pointers coming into the game but hit seven against us. I think part of the losses were facing two hot-shooting teams."
It's hard to argue with Lancaster when you note that the Wildcats hit 54 percent of their shots from the field (26-of-48) against Northview and 50 percent in the title game versus Columbia City. The Wolverines meanwhile hit 60 percent (31-of-52) versus the Knights, including 11 3-pointers.
So you might ask what the Knights have been working on during a nearly two week hiatus between the Hall of Fame Classic games and their next contest, a WIC contest with Owen Valley?
Here's a hint. It's starts with a 'D' and ends with a 'fense.'
We've been working on our defensive positioning and guarding the ball handler," commented Lancaster. "Most of our breakdowns in the (Hall of Fame) games were fundamental. We can work on those. We just need to keep our focus and improve from those losses."
While the Knights lost just three games in each of the past two seasons, there is little reason to panic at the Knights first two game losing streak since a pair of losses to Sullivan and Avon back in February of the 2000-01 season.
First of all, there is little reason to hang your head when you lose to a pair of top-ranked teams in the state, especially when you consider the Knights had chances to win both contests late. Secondly, the numbers don't lie, the Knights offensive game is hitting at even a higher clip than last season when they won their first 12 games.
The Knights are scoring over 75 points per game, near the top of the state with Indiana State-bound guard Logan Whitman averaging 25.7 ppg. good for seventh highest in the state while teammate Zach Keyes is within 46 points of 1,000 for his career. Keyes is currently averaging 18.8 ppg. with Josh Timm scoring at 14 per game.
The only slight difference between the numbers of this squad compared to last year's team is the defensive average which has raised to 61.6 through nine games this year compared to 58.6 at this point this season. However, when you add to the equation that the Knights have faced three one-loss teams this year, it's easy to realize that the work done by this year's squad is commendable.
"This is a little bit different team than last year," said Lancaster. "With Amos (Wegner) and Travis (Hughes) having graduated, we're a little bit bigger and maybe not quite as quick as a whole," noted Lancaster. "But we're able to do different things this year compared to last year. Our strengths are a little different."
One thing that hasn't changed according to Lancaster is the large crowds that the team draws to both home and away games. "We'd just like to thank the fans for all the tremendous support they've given us. The atmosphere (at the Hall of Fame Classic) was tremendous," said Lancaster.
Undoubtedly that support will not waver as the Knights take their 7-2 record and Class 4A No. 14 ranking up against Western Indiana Conference opponent Owen Valley on Friday night beginning with the girls varsity game at 6 p.m.