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Jets fall flat in third quarter, fall to Norway



North Central’s Jordan Walters (2) darts a pass during a game against Norway on Jan. 2, 2024 at Norway High School.

NORWAY — After two quarters of play, it looked like the North Central boys varsity basketball team was going to easily grab its first win of 2024 on Norway’s home court.

However, the Knights found a rhythm in the third quarter and sent the Jets home with a 57-52 loss.

“I thought we played really well in the first half,” NC coach Tyler Mercier said. “(In) the second half, I think our legs gave out on us a bit. After Christmas break and some guys were on vacation, they punched us in the mouth pretty good in the third quarter. They played really well in the second half, on their home floor. Made shots, we didn’t make. … When the margin of error is small, you can’t make mistakes and I think we made too many tonight.”

After an extended holiday break, Norway coach Jeff Gallino was happy his team came away with the win.

“I thought in the second half, we played much better than we did in the first half,” Gallino said. “Christmas break is sometimes difficult for both teams. We came out a little flat. We were able to make some free throws at the end and secure the win.”

The Jets opened the game on a roll with senior Jake Poquette leading the way. He scored seven points in the first and North Central held a 14-8 advantage going into the second quarter.

“I thought their game plan was good,” Gallino said. “They came in and shot the ball well. Coach Mercier had his team playing hard.”

Ian Popp drained a layup through contact to draw Norway within four of the Jets. However, on the next possession, Poquette buried a 3-pointer from the right wing and pushed the lead back to seven.

Knights’ senior Alex Ortman came to life just before halftime and cut the lead to four points at halftime.

“Alex is a really good player,” Mercier said. “I’ve been watching him for a few years now. His athleticism, his quickness, his feel for the game. So we just wanted to send bodies at him, fresh bodies, and get a rotation of guys on him. We’ve got guys, size-wise, that can match him. But he’s just got that next level … and I thought we did an OK job on him in the first half.

“In the second half, he did his damage and did a number on us.”

Norway junior Cole Baij tied the game at 32 with a layup after putting the Jets’ defenders in the spincycle.

Then Ortman took over.

He netted five points in the final three minutes of the third and the Knights held a five point lead going into the final stanza.

“We knew we could get the ball to Alex (Ortman) inside,” Gallino said. “We had some nice passes inside to him and he was able to finish for us.”

Ortman added seven points to his total in the fourth.

However, the Jets weren’t going to lay down and a layup from Hunter Robinson made it a three point game with four minutes to play.

After its offense stalled, North Central was forced to foul and sent Popp to the charity stripe.

He hit 3 of 4 shots, down the stretch, to secure the win.

“We’re going to spend some time at the stripe (on Wednesday) shooting free throws,” Gallino said. “Fortunately, Ian (Popp) was able to make a couple late that helped us secure the win.”

Ortman topped all scorers with 23 points.

Norway also received contributions from Popp (11 points), Bryce Adams (2 points), Cole Baij (12 points) and Mason Trudeau (9 points).

Poquette led North Central with 13 points.

The Jets also received contributions from Jacob Gorzinski (12 points), Jordan Walters (6 points), Evan Hanchek (2 points), Lane Gorzinski (8 points) and Robinson (11 points).

Norway is home today against Forest Park while the Jets return to their home court for a matchup with Stephenson.

“We have such a tough schedule coming up,” Mercier said. “We’ve got to get in shape and fix some rotations on the defensive end. … We’re eight games in and this is our seventh away game, so just continue to improve and stick together as a team and I think we’ll be a tough out come district time.”

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