BY DEAN HOCKNEY
RUSSIAVILLE, Ind. – The Class 3A No. 17 Northwestern Tigers are hot, and it is only the first week of December. Following easy wins over Madison-Grant (79-45) and Tri-Central (84-42), the Tigers knocked off a feisty and surprising Western squad 57-49 in Russiaville before returning home and stunning Mississinewa 45-43. It is the second consecutive year Northwestern has started the boys basketball season 4-0.
Last Friday night, the Tigers traveled to a nearly sold-out Richard R. Rea Gymnasium looking for a fourth-straight win in the Hoosier Conference and cross-county rivalry. While they grabbed the victory, it was not easy. After jumping to a quick 16-8 lead after eight minutes, it was not until a final minute slam dunk by sophomore Tayson Parker that head coach Jim Gish could breathe easy.
In between the quick start and final slam dunk was a classic battle of the long-time rivals – and the emergence of two stars in the making. For the Tigers, it was Parker – a player who has been homeschooled and enrolled at Northwestern over the summer. Making his big-game debut in front of a raucous crowd, Parker scored 26 points and had six assists. With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, he scored 12 fourth quarter points – including the dunk, a 3-pointer and the Tigers final nine points.
For Western, it was freshman Kyle Sanders who made a statement. After hitting a first quarter 3-pointer, he came to life in the third stanza with a trio of triples to keep the Panthers within striking distance at 39-33. He did not slow in the fourth, scoring 11 en route to a 23-point scoring night, which included six 3-pointers. He accounted for 20 of Western’s 27 second half points.
For Northwestern, Ben Harris added 12 points and Cameron Austin had seven. For the Panthers (0-2), Cooper O’Neal had 16 points and Blake Constable added six.
The following night, Northwestern found itself down by 10 points to Mississinewa in the final minute of play before Parker took the game over once again. Down 41-31, Parker scored on a drive to start the improbable comeback. Parker took a turnover and scored on a jumper before Ole Miss missed on a two-shot free throw attempt. Brayden Maples was then fouled and hit both Tigers freebies to trim the lead to four with :44 remaining.
Conner Wilson put Mississinewa up six with a pair of free throws only to see T.J. Macaluso score on the other end. Another Ole Miss turnover resulted in Parker canning a 3-pointer with 21 seconds remaining. The Indians then missed another pair of free throws, and then they fouled Parker. The sophomore hit both to give Northwestern a 44-43 lead. After another Ole Miss turnover, Parker hit one of two charity stripe attempts with one second remaining to seal the win.
Parker finished with 23 points while Macaluso and Bowser each had six.
Northwestern travels to Taylor Friday night while Western is at Memorial Gymnasium for its annual test with Kokomo on Dec. 5 as part of a girls-boys doubleheader (girls tip at 6 p.m.).