SYRACUSE – On Saturday at 7:15 p.m., when the Norwich team takes to the floor against the South Jefferson Spartans at SRC Arena on the campus of Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, they will have a chance to make history as the only team to move past the regional rounds and onto the New York State final four.
This year’s team is honestly unlike any other to come through the Norwich program.
Currently, the team has just one player on the 12 man roster that averages 10-plus points a game. They do, however, have half of the lineup registering an average of 5 or more points in the scorebook every game this season.
The Tornado’s go deep in the bench, rotating a couple in every few minutes, keeping fresh legs on the floor at all times. Ten-year head coach Josh Bennett has to with this Norwich squad as they play a hard-nosed, in-your-face, full-court pressing defense. They are one of the few teams that play a defense that covers the court sideline to sideline, end-line to end-line and give 110-percent every minute they are on the floor.
Bennett says it’s the “run, run and run some more mentality,” that he has instilled in his kids and in every game they’ve played this season, his kids believe in it.
“Our entire thought process is we are going to play 32 minutes of hell,” said Bennett. “It’s like Arkansas in the 90’s. I think it has really created a mentality that we are tougher than you are. We are going to run and we are going to go.”
In most games this season, teams that have faced Norwich are dog-tired by the time they get through the first quarter. And some haven’t even been able to hang on for that long. Very few of their opponents have been able to keep up with the pace the Lady Tornado run at. But it’s not just the tiredness that this uptempo mentality creates against their opponents.
“I think it’s given of us a toughness, honestly,” Bennett said. “I think our kids have really taken on a toughness mentality when it comes to playing. We haven’t suffered any major injuries (knock on wood) and with the style of basketball we play, I’m shocked about that quite honestly because we constantly create collisions on the court. It’s really a toughness, a strength, a physical domination.”
Offense wins games…
In the 21 games that the Purple Tornado have earned the win this season, they have outscored their opponents 1320-840. That’s a difference of 480 points. Their one loss this season was to Class AA Bishop Kearny out of Section V.
Norwich has put up 70 or more on the scoreboard in six different games this season and have been held to less than 50 points in just two games of the 22 they have played.
With the amount of offensive possessions the Tornado average each games, the high scoring games are expected. Bennett believes his squad is getting at least 20 or more trips to their front court than the average team.
Each possession for the Tornado usually ends with a different way the ball goes through the net. Norwich has the ability to attack the rim and finish. However, they can share the ball very well as the team works one or two passes into the offense before getting an open look at the basket. Their ball movement is quick, whether with the dribble or the pass. Often times, when teams start to figure out they Norwich can penetrate their defense and make the necessary adjustments, the Tornado shooters come alive from beyond the 3-point arc.
“I think about seven or eight out of the last eight or nine games, we have been over eight made 3’s in a game [and in that one, the girls made seven],” said Norwich’s head coach. “I honestly just think we are at that point in the season where our shooters are in a better rhythm. We are on the floor a lot more. We are taking a lot of jumpshots. We have always had the capability of shooting the ball they way we are now, since the beginning of the year but we just didn’t get in a very good rhythm.”
The Tornado have has several games this season where they have knocked down a team total of 10 3-point field goals.
Norwich, however, doesn’t do their scoring damage just behind the 3-point arc. The girls do have a very balanced attack, which makes the Tornado squad a difficult team to defend. Teams lately have been trying to cover the Purple with a zone defense of some sort but Norwich has been able to break that down.
“I think the thought process is that we have two really good guards that really get downhill well and attack the rim well and teams think the if ‘we play zone, they aren’t going to beat us to the rim off the dribble on every possession,’” said Bennett. “But then they have to contend with the fact that we can can throw the ball out. I think you can win any way but I think that is definitely something that is helping us to be difficult to defend.”
The ball movement for Norwich is so strong that they haven’t had one 30-second shot clock violation called against them the entire season.
...but defense wins championships
Many people have been saying it is all in the offensive attack for Norwich, as they have been putting up big numbers all season long. It does seems that their fast paced offense, with a few passes then a shot, is what that is contributed to. But if someone has been really paying attention to what this team does, their defense is what is creating those extra possessions.
“I’m 100-percent on board with the reason that we have been able to score so many points this year is because of what we have done on defense,” said Bennett. “Our defense is out best offense, no question about it.”..