No. 1 Norway boys basketball team has to hang on to defeat Westwood

Norway’s Bryce Broden, left, and Josh Plante, right, flank Westwood’s Nathan Beckman as he tries to make a move toward the basket in their high school basketball game played at the Knights gym on Tuesday night. (Iron Mountain Daily News photo by Burt Angeli)

NORWAY — The undefeated and Upper Peninsula’s top-ranked Norway Knights turned back Westwood 58-51 in a Mid-Peninsula Conference boys basketball game on Tuesday.

The Knights (11-0, 7-0), first in the U.P. Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association’s Class ABC poll, couldn’t shake the young Patriots (1-8).

“I thought they played harder than we did,” said Norway coach Ben Leiker, who didn’t believe the pressure of being No. 1 affected his Knights. “I was disappointed in our defensive effort as far as helping each other out communicating and finishing with rebounds.”

Westwood trailed by 11 points with three minutes remaining. But the Patriots moved to within five in the final seconds.

“Norway is a great team. Ben Leiker is a great coach,” said Westwood’s Chad Hewitt. “His kids are the No. 1 team in the Big Five for a reason.

“I thought for us to even stay close we would have to just play with everything we have about us. That’s what we hang our hat on at Westwood. We’re not super-skilled. We’re young but we play hard for 32 minutes.”

Connor Ortman scored 19 points and Justin Bal had 15 to lead Norway. Josh Plante had 11 points with five of the Knights’ 12 steals. Bryce Broden had four steals.

Many of those steals led to lay-ups including a key theft by Micah Wilson to put the Knights up 52-41 in the fourth period.

“We needed every one of those lay-ups because we shot poorly from the 3-point line,” said Leiker, noting a 3 for 13 effort.

Westwood, which graduated many players from the team that ousted Norway in last year’s regional, surprised the Knights by netting 6 of 16 triples. Blake Hewitt and Jacob Adriano drained treys in the final minute.

“They haven’t been shooting well from anywhere,” Leiker said of the Patriots. “Our plan was to give them the outside shot. They were patient enough to get it inside for most of the game and in the end they were making their outside shots.”

Sophomore Nathan Beckman led the Patriots with 16 points and junior Austin Pierpont added 13.

Westwood is part of the Class C district tournament at West Iron County. The Patriots meet the Wykons and Norway faces Iron Mountain in district semifinals.

“This Westwood team is really young (with three sophomores),” Leiker said. “That’s a brand new team and they’re just going to get better as the year goes on.”

Westwood, which hosts Iron Mountain on Thursday, won the JV and freshmen games.