The crowd of supporters may have been limited in number, but the standing ovation at the end of the Norfolk High boys’ 76-74 overtime loss to Grand Island showed appreciation for the Panthers’ near-miss effort.
Earlier, the Norfolk girls, sparked by Erin Schwanebeck’s 17 points, rolled over a winless Islanders squad 55-24.
In the boys game, while Grand Island’s 6-foot-9 junior, Isaac Traudt scored a career-high 57 points, the Islanders needed more than that to defeat the Panthers.
“The thing that impresses me most about Norfolk is that this is the time of year when teams with bad records usually quit, but that team’s not quitting,” said Grand Island coach Jeremiah Slough. “I think they’re peaking, and that’s a credit to them and a credit to Coach (Matt) Shelsta and what he’s got going here. I’ve got a lot of respect for the Norfolk program.”
Despite a 17-13 first-quarter lead, the Panthers played from behind most of the way but refused to allow Grand Island to pull away, answering each of the Islanders’ biggest shots with big shots of their own until, ultimately forcing a 51-51 tie late in the third period.
The fourth quarter saw the score tied five times, the last at 68. Then Norfolk watched as Traudt, who had already scored 53 points, went to the free throw line with four seconds remaining to attempt two free throws.
But Traudt missed both, and the contest went into overtime.
An Islander free throw by Aiden Klemme forced the Panthers to play from behind once again, but Kallan Herman’s two free throws promptly gave Norfolk a 70-69 lead. The senior also answered a Traudt offensive rebound and putback with a drive from the wing.
But the Panthers’ hopes were dashed on two turnovers on consecutive possessions near midcourt with 28 and 17 seconds left to play, both with opportunities to take the lead.
“Obviously, right at the end when we turned the ball over a couple times, when we didn’t give ourselves a chance to score, that hurt,” Shelsta said. “But there was a goal-tending call that wasn’t made, that was a very obvious one. That’s kind of the difference, and that was huge.”
The play Shelsta referred to occurred with Norfolk trailing 63-62 with four minutes left in the fourth. Daydon Taylor picked off a Grand Island pass near midcourt and dribbled in for what would have been the go-ahead points, but the Islanders’ 6-foot-6 post player, Dylan Sextro, swatted the ball against the glass — well above the rim and, in Shelsta’s view, after the ball was placed against the backboard by Taylor and was heading through the hoop.
Instead, later in overtime, Kytan Fyfe scored on a drive and Grand Island got single free throws from Jacob Nesvara and Traudt to go ahead 76-72, and Taylor’s basket in the lane at the buzzer was too little in Norfolk’s attempt to avoid the 76-74 loss.
“In our preparation for tonight, we talked about Norfolk being a team that is really good offensively who struggles to guard a little bit,” Slough said. “We thought things may come a little easier for us offensively, but we’ve got to continue to be tough on the defensive end; we really pride ourselves on being able to guard people, but they really took it to us on that end of the floor.”
Slough was especially impressed with Herman, who led the Panthers in scoring once again, this time with 35 points. The senior made 9 of 19 shots and converted all 14 chances at the free throw line.
“They’re very talented. The Herman kid is a stud, an elite player in the state; we threw a whole bunch of different coverages at him, and none of them bothered him,” he said. “And when we went into our ‘junk defense’ on him, they had some other guys knock down shots.”
Norfolk also got 14 points from Colby James, nine points from Taylor, six from Kamari Moore and five from Isaac Heimes.
“Our kids played so hard. They fight — we have to because we’re so undersized every game we go into,” Shelsta said. “And tonight, facing a 6-foot-9 guy who can shoot it and do everything, we hoped to get somebody in his face who can match up a little bit. He still went for 50-plus.”
“We thought if we could shut everybody down and make Traudt score 50 to beat us,” he said. “And he did.”
Traudt’s scoring has been a large part of the Islanders’ arsenal this season, according to Slough.
“We’ve been talking all year, as he’s been compared to the best players in the state, that he just doesn’t get the freedom of space that a lot of the best players in the state get the luxury of having,” Slough said. “When you play him one-on-one, I think he’s the best player in the state, and it’s not very close, and tonight he was able to showcase that.”
Traudt played the role of point guard against Norfolk, making 20 of 35 field goal attempts and 14 of 20 free throws, and he demonstrated that he’s capable of scoring in a multitude of ways.
“The ball’s got to be in his hands as much as possible,” Slough said. “When they start double- and triple-teaming him, we try to move him to the interior and get him off the ball a little bit, but if they’re just going to play him one-on-one, we’re just going to put the ball in his hands and let him go.”
Norfolk, now 5-13, will continue its season at home against Omaha Northwest on Friday night.
“I love our guys’ efforts; there’s a reason why you get a standing ovation as the guys are walking out, because (the fans) see how hard you work, they see how hard you play,” Shelsta said. “It’s just the little stuff here and there from the first half that builds up into the third and fourth quarters, when you put yourself in position to win. Just think about if you were one play better against the man you’re going against — you get one more rebound, one less turnover, one better pass — what’s that difference going to be.”
“We’re right there; the kids are seeing it, they’re working hard for it,” he said. “I told them again after the game. Everybody gets a chance to go to the state tournament. No one wants to play you right now, so be ready to have those moments when you take advantage of those opportunities.”
THE NORFOLK GIRLS sped to a 16-3 lead after one quarter and then increased that advantage to 33-13 at the half and 47-21 after three quarters en route to the 55-24 win.
“I wish we would have shot free throws a little better (15 of 26),” Panthers coach Jared Oswald said. “We also could have finished better in the lane; we missed some opportunities that weren’t very contested. That’s been a focus for a couple weeks, and that’s an area that’s got to be better.”
Schwanebeck’s 17 points led Norfolk in scoring. Nealy Brummond’s 6 of 8 free throws helped her total nine points, while Hailey Kleinschmit and Agdaly Sanchez finished with eight points each.
“We did a good job of getting into some transition, (and) Erin could get comfortable and get going,” Oswald said. “She’s really played a solid last six games for us; she’s been steady, scoring the ball, especially on shots in transition.”
“But she’s expanded her game to where she can attack the basket pretty effectively, too,” he said. “She’s really been playing well for us right now.”
Those transition opportunities came, in part, through the Islanders’ 30 turnovers.
“We talked before the game about continuing to get better,” Oswald said. “I felt like starting with the Columbus game, we played pretty solid basketball for three straight games, and we wanted this to be the fourth. I thought we did a pretty good job tonight.”
Grand Island 13 20 20 15 (8) — 76
Norfolk 17 11 23 17 (6) — 74
Grand Island (10-9): Tyler Fay 1-1 0-0 3, Aiden Klemme 0-2 1-2 1, Dylan Sextro 2-7 1-3 5, Kytan Fyfe 2-3 0-0 4, Alex Hinken 0-2 0-0 0, Isaac Traudt 20-35 14-20 57, Jacob Nesvara 2-3 1-2 6. Totals: 27-53 17-27 76.
Norfolk (5-13): Kamari Moore 2-7 0-0 6, Isaac Heimes 2-5 1-1 5, Kallan Herman 9-19 14-14 35, Colton Price 0-2 1-2 1, Reed Stoltz 1-2 2-2 4, Colby James 5-9 0-0 14, Daydon Taylor 3-7 2-2 9. Totals: 22-53 19-20 74.
Grand Island 3 10 8 3 — 24
Norfolk 16 17 14 8 — 55
Grand Island (0-18): Kaylee Hemingway 0-1 0-0 0, Abbi Maciejewski 0-2 1-2 1, Claire Kelly 0-5 2-2 2, Adriana Cabello 0-1 0-0 0, Jaylen Hansen 2-4 0-0 5, Madison Webster 0-3 0-0 0, Elli Ward 0-2 0-0 0, Mya Gawrych 1-6 0-0 3, Hailey Kenkel 2-3 1-2 5, Emma McCoy 2-3 0-0 5, Lily Chave 1-4 0-0 3. Totals: 8-35 4-6 24.
Norfolk (8-10): Nealy Brummond 1-7 6-8 9, Amber Schwanebeck 0-1 0-0 0, Amanda Sellin 0-2 0-0 0, Tessa Gall 3-5 0-0 7, Erin Schwanebeck 6-10 1-2 17, Karly Kalin 0-1 0-0 0, Chelsea Strom 2-5 1-2 5, Hailey Kleinschmit 2-9 4-8 8, Makenna Skiff 0-1 0-2 0, Lauren Hinrichs 0-0 1-2 1, Agdaly Sanchez 3-6 2-2 8. Totals: 17-47 15-26 55.