ELNORA — Through the first nine games of the season the North Daviess boys basketball team relied on its obvious height advantage, but Friday night senior guard Alex Wittmer took center stage.
The Cougars (6-4, 1-0 Southwestern Indiana) defeated Shakamak (2-8, 1-3) 53-36 for their third straight win Friday night, at the Cougar Den in their conference opener, behind 27 points from Wittmer.
Early on this season, the front line of Kelby Byrer (6’4), Zach Moore (6’2) and Austin Buehler (6’10) has been a stabilizing force as the Cougars have tried to find their identity. Friday night was different from the opening tip.
It was apparent Wittmer was going to make his presence felt early and often. The senior guard made four 3-pointers in the first quarter to lead the Cougars with 12 points. Dusten Cook added a 3-pointer of his own and the Cougars led 19-10 after one quarter.
“Alex (Wittmer) has been as hot as any player I’ve coached maybe since I’ve been here over the last two weeks,” said North Daviess coach Brent Dalrymple.
“He’s been hot in practice and he’s been hot in games and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’re finally at the halfway point of our season and all our kids are starting to find their roles and find their legs and really start to do what they can do on the floor.”
Wittmer and Cook scored five points each in the second quarter and North Daviess used an 11-2 run to take a 34-17 lead at the half.
“The thing with our team is we aren’t fancy,” Dalrymple said. “We’ve got five or six guys that we play. We’re going to run some motion offense and we’re going to play man-to-man defense — that’s it, period. We just try to be as good at those couple things as we possibly can. I can’t remember a whole lot of sets, I’ve never been a guy that breaks down things and makes it real complex. Everything for us is very simple and you either go out and do it, or you don’t. Our kids, being halfway through the season are now understanding what their spots are and what their roles are.”
Wittmer led all scorers with 17 at the intermission, but the third quarter wouldn’t be as pretty for the Cougars.
Wittmer hit his sixth 3-pointer of the night, but it was his lone basket of the quarter as the Cougars struggled to find their offense and were outscored 13-7. The Lakers cut into the North Daviess 17-point halftime lead, but couldn’t get the deficit in single digits and Shakamak still trailed 41-30 to begin the fourth quarter.
“Coach (Steve) Brett hasn’t won 500 games for nothing and I’m sure he challenged his kids pretty good at halftime, so they came out and played pretty hard and started executing some things and the bottom line is in the game of basketball, teams are going to make runs. To our kids credit, we let them make a two or three bucket run and that’s all they got. I don’t think it ever got closer than 11 points. The kids really dug in and did what they needed to do. They didn’t panic and they stuck with what we were doing, we called a timeout and they listened and executed. That’s what good teams do.”
Moore’s three-point play, followed by a Wittmer basket pushed the lead to 46-30 in the opening minute of the final quarter, which effectively ended any chances for a Shakamak miracle comeback. The Cougars won the final quarter by a 12-6 margin as Dalrymple was able to get some minutes for his reserves, including junior Logan Wagler who scored the final basket of the night for North Daviess.
Wittmer was the only Cougar in double figures with 27, but Brady Helms had nine points, Cook scored eight points, Moore had three and Kelby Byrer had two points. The Cougars will spend their next three games on the road beginning with Linton Friday night and then the Buggy Bowl Saturday at Kavanaugh Kourt against Class A No. 1 Barr-Reeve.
“We are a very simple team, we need to work on our shooting, work on our conditioning and we need to work on game planning for both Linton and Barr-Reeve,” Dalrymple said. “We need to come out healthy on Friday in a good mind set and put in little things that we think are important both offensively and defensively and go play.”