NORTON: As Norton has been able to do often this season, the Panthers opened up a sizeable lead Wednesday night with a strong first half. But unlike in the Panthers’ two losses this season in which big leads were blown late in the game, Norton held on this time to beat Crestwood 54-40 in a Portage Trail Conference game.
Norton led by 18 late in the third quarter and had the game in hand fairly early. However, Crestwood fought back and drew within 10 points of the Panthers with 3:30 remaining in the game. Norton was still comfortable, but allowing another team to cut into a deficit wasn’t a great sign for Panthers coach Brian Miller.
“To be honest, we just haven’t been playing very well this year,” he said. “We get ahead big and we get lackadaisical. We try to go to our bench a little bit and it’s been a problem all year. A lack of depth and ball skills and getting wild.”
Miller concedes that a 14-point win over a league opponent should be a positive thing. But in his eyes, Norton isn’t playing up to the level needed to advance far into the postseason.
“As a coach I should be satisfied by winning by 14 points,” he said, “But when you’re up 18 and they cut it back down to 10, it just gets sloppy. That doesn’t bode well when you’ve blown two 18-point leads. It’ll bite you later on down the road.”
Senior Cara Cook led Norton on Wednesday with 19 points. Cook scored from just about everywhere, with a 3-pointer, a couple of 15-foot jumpers, several layups and six points off second-chance points. Senior Jaclyn Fortner added 12 points and hit two 3-pointers and junior Brooke Robinson added 11 points, including six in the fourth quarter as Norton held Crestwood at bay.
“Teams play well against us,” Miller said. “They hang around a little bit. They could have just gave up and lost by 40 but they fought back.”
Crestwood (6-3, 2-3) sophomore guard Holly Hoffman led the charge for the Red Devils with 13 points in the second half and had 21 for the game. Hoffman hit a 3-pointer to close the third quarter and then made another to open the fourth to bring Crestwood within 40-28 and put pressure on Norton.
The Panthers have played five games in 10 days, which has not allowed Miller to practice very hard or at all over the past two weeks. He’s looking toward a short break to where his squad can regain its legs and catch its breath.
“It’s just a lot,” he said of Norton’s heavy schedule to open the year. “My goal is to push them in the second half of the season. And our goal is to always get back to the tournament and get back to regionals and this team is built for that. We’re trying to get better for that run. The league title is in our sights. It’s ours to lose. Teams are giving us their best effort.”
To Miller, there’s a multitude of things Norton could be doing better despite a 7-2 record. One them, oddly enough, is to stop playing at the friendly confines of the Panthers’ Den.
“I’m sick of playing at home, we all are,” Miller said. “I think we focus on the road and we’ve played a lot of games at home. We’re tired of it and looking forward to some road games.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com.