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By Colin Harris | Staff Writer
Even without two of its starters, the Norton Panthers dominated host Ravenna 81-64 in a Portage Trail Conference Metro Division game Friday night.
Without 6-foot-6 junior forward Aaron Vanbuskirk, who was dismissed from the team for undisclosed reasons, and 6-4 senior Matt McGlone out with an injury, junior forward Dakota Pratt took the opportunity to step forward.
"Tonight was very, very disappointing," Ravenna head coach Phil Starks said. "Norton was without two of their starters, and I thought we would respond better than we did."
Vanbuskirk was averaging nearly 16 points and eight rebounds a game, but Pratt bettered his former teammate with a game-high 26 points to go along with eight boards as the Ravens had no answer for the junior's inside play.
"I don't think Pratt took a single shot outside of the paint the entire night," Starks said."He had a big night, and he has a team around him that was not afraid to share the ball and find the open guy."
Norton (12-3, 7-1 Metro) turned a 16-15 lead at the start of the second quarter into a 41-29 halftime advantage as the Panthers put together two 7-0 runs and a 5-0 run to put some distance between them and the home Ravens.
Pratt put in 10 points in the second quarter, and teammate Jeff Schulte knocked down two 3-pointers as Norton took advantage of a seemingly lethargic effort by the Ravens (8-6, 4-4).
"We just seemed like we fell asleep in the second quarter," Starks said. "Norton was able to do pretty much anything they wanted to because we weren't limiting our mistakes and we didn't make defense a priority."
Norton's lead ballooned to 19 points near the end of the third quarter as the Panthers put together a 22-17 stretch.
Pratt scored eight points in the period, and teammate Justin Blanks added five points.
Norton made up for the absence of two top players by distributing the ball. Nine players scored in the winning effort, with double-figure showings coming from Pratt, Schulte (12 points), Jay Ventura (10), Blanks (10) and JaVonte Smith (10).
Starks said the way Norton ran its offense was something that he wished he saw from his group.
"What (Record-Courier correspondent) Jim Manion recently wrote about us was true, that we're dangerous if we're sharing the ball and getting people involved," Starks said. "Hats off to Norton because they played team basketball tonight and made the right passes to get people the ball."
Guard Tyler Bayless finished with a team-high 16 points -- including four 3-pointers -- for Ravenna, while teammate Tyler Conley finished with 13 points.