It wasn’t the start Newark was looking for, but it proved to be good enough.
The ending didn’t go as planned either, but all told, the Norsemen had a successful performance during the 54th Annual Plano Christmas Classic.
Playing in the championship game for the first time since 2010, and vying for their first title since 1992, the Norsemen fell short against Ottawa, 48-37 at Plano’s Reaper Gym on Dec. 30.
The Norsemen (9-2) never heated up in the championship game, but a lot of that had to do with the defensive pressure applied by the Pirates. Rarely did they allow any of the Norsemen with open looks at the basket and it resulted in a 30 percent (13-of-44) effort shooting from the field.
Will Clausel, Cameron Myre and Dylan Patrick were all named to the all-tournament team, but the Pirates held Myre scoreless and Clausel to just an early basket. Myre was the only one to have a solid scoring night, leading the Norsemen with 16 points.
"This was just a different kind of game than we normally play. It was physical, and it was very hard for us," Noresemen coach Rick Tollefson said. "Coop (Ottawa coach Mark Cooper) does a great job with his kids, and that's a great level of defense that they play at. You could see that we just couldn't run an offense, got all tangled up many times due to their pressure, and frankly, they did a great job. That's the way it works. We weren't able to take that amount of physical play.”
As dominant at Ottawa was, the Norsemen still were within striking distance in the game late. Riding the momentum of a strong finish to the third quarter, Newark pulled to within 32-27, but Wyatt Hill hammered home a pair of three-pointers to make it a 38-27 game and pretty much seal it.
Still, they battled hard against the much bigger Ottawa squad.
“I'm still proud of the effort of our kids and the tiny school we represent in being able to compete in this game and at this high level of basketball,” Tollefson said.
Rewinding back to Newark’s tournament opener against Princeton on Dec. 27 and you’d see that the Norsemen nearly landed in the loser’s bracket.
They trailed by four points with under a minute left, but got a huge three-pointer from Patrick to pull within 59-58 before Clausel’s heroics.
Corey Jacobson snagged an offensive rebound and then sent a pass to Clausel who drilled a jumper from just behind the free throw line in the final seconds.
“Corey got a big rebound and I would not have been able to do that without him,” Clausel said.“I found myself open and knocked it down.”
Clausel finished with 22 points, Patrick had 13 and Myre added 11.
The Norsemen cleaned things up in a 51-37 win against Morris to advance to the semifinals.
Once again Clausel had a big night with 20 points and 7 rebounds. Myre added 11 points.
Arguably Newark’s finest moment in the tournament came in its 65-57 win against previously undefeated Burlington Central in the semifinals.
Zach Schutta punished the Norsemen for 31 points and 14 rebounds, but the Norsemen rode the combo of Clausel and Patrick who combined for 43 points. Clausel added 7assists.
The team won’t have much time to regroup. They’ll host Ottawa Marquette on Jan. 3 and Serena on Jan. 6.