Norwalk Truckers come from 14 points down to defeat 4th-ranked Toledo Whitmer Panthers

MORNING JOURNAL/SAM GREENE Norwalk’s Damius Peacock, left, cheers with a fan as the Norwalk student section storms the court after the Truckers’ 51-43 victory over Toledo Whitmer on Saturday.

MORNING JOURNAL/SAM GREENE Toledo Whitmer’s Jon Ashe makes a layup during the third quarter on Saturday.

MORNING JOURNAL/SAM GREENE Norwalk’s Jeff Thomas drives to the basket along the baseline during the second quarter against Toledo Whitmer on Saturday. morning journal/sam greene Toledo Whitmer’s Jon Ashe makes a layup during the third quarter on Saturday.

NORWALK — Toledo Whitmer was just 12 minutes away from getting its second win over the Norwalk Truckers in 10 months, leading by 14.

Norwalk’s Ben Haraway and his teammates had other plans.

Haraway, who had a game-high 22 points, and the Truckers flipped the script on the Panthers as Norwalk stormed back with a 25-3 run to complete a thrilling comeback, winning 51-43 in front of a full house at Norwalk High School on Saturday night.

After falling behind 40-26 to a Whitmer team that ended the Truckers’ season a year ago in the Division I, Regional Semifinal, Norwalk (16-0) completely shut down the Panthers’ (12-4) offense, limiting it to just five points in the final 11:49 of the game and no field goals in the fourth quarter.

“We got on that little bit of a roll in that third quarter,” Norwalk coach Steve Gray said. “I just had the feeling that this place was just trying so hard to get into it. And then they erupted, and then we just carried that momentum to the finish line.”

Haraway led the charge for Norwalk offensively, shooting 8 of 13 from the field and hitting big shot after big shot, including back-to-back baskets a minute apart to give his team the lead for good. He scored 12 of his 22 points in the last 12 minutes of the game.

“I was more aggressive,” Haraway said. “Our coach told our teammates to start cutting harder to open up the lanes. So it was easier.”

Sensing Haraway had the hot hand, Gray gave him the green light offensively to ignite his team.

“We put the game in his hand in the fourth quarter,” Gray said. “Great players make great plays and they make coaches look pretty smart. But it just wasn’t Benny. Defensively, we gave up three points in the fourth quarter and no field goals.”

Norwalk’s defense had trouble in the first 20 minutes of the game as Whitmer’s Nigel Hayes took advantage of the double-teams he was getting and found open shooters on the weakside of the floor. Whitmer made 15 of its first 35 field goals, but missed the last 12 as Norwalk played more patient defense and asserted control of the boards.

“We ran the same sets in the second half as we did the first,” Whitmer coach Bruce Smith said. “I didn’t look at the stat sheet, but we missed a lot of easy shots. When it’s 40-32 and miss six 1-footers in a row, then it becomes 40-40.

“We didn’t do anything different at all. We got the same looks in the second half as we did in the first. In the first half, they went in. In the second, they didn’t.”

Norwalk struggled to protect the basketball in the first half, committing 10 turnovers that led to easy baskets for the Panthers. The Truckers only had two the rest of the way, which limited the Whitmer transition game.

Gray said the game turned back in his team’s favor once it started to cut down on the turnovers and limit their opposition to just one shot down the floor.

“We didn’t rebound in the first half,” Gray added. “We lost sight of ball and man. Our ball movement and people movement in the first half — it shows us we really do have a long way to go. And it’s exciting for the (coaching) staff to think that we have room for growth. We haven’t even come close to reaching our potential.”

Jon Ashe, who led Whitmer with 12 points, split a pair of free throws with 3:21 left in the third quarter to give his team a 40-26 lead. The Panthers did not score another point for the next 9:55.

Grant Hull hit his only basket of the night, a 3-pointer, with 2:59 left to start the comeback. The Truckers cut the deficit to six, 40-34, at the end of the quarter. With the crowd on its feet and making noise, Norwalk fed off of that energy and finished off a comeback to remember.

“When we got going, it was just unbelievable,” Gray said. “I’ve never seen an atmosphere like this very few times. If they’ll support us the rest of the way, this won’t be the highlight of our season.”

@Bielik_Tim

Last Updated: 1/27/2013 12:10:40 PM EST

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