It was a festive night at Hobart Arena, but the Tippecanoe Red Devils refused to join the party.
Troy – The Troy Trojans celebrated their 100th anniversary of high school basketball Saturday night at Hobart Arena.
Former athletes returned for an impressive pre-game ceremony. The Mayor read a lengthy proclamation. The Troy Pop Rocks put on a dazzling halftime performance that had the large crowd on its feet.
Then the Tippecanoe Red Devils ruined the party.
The Red Devils used a smothering defense, a big edge on the boards, and just enough offense to beat the Trojans 50-41 for their 13th win of the year.
“We set a goal at the beginning of the year for 15,” said senior captain Nathan Shirley, who knocked down three three-pointers on his way to a 13-point night, more than twice his season average. “So we are right on track. Of course, we would have liked to have been in contention for the conference, but at the end of the day, the tournament is what matters most.”
“That’s a good win for us,” said Red Devils coach Joel Visser. “Troy is a big, physical team. We did a good job on their point guard in the second half, contested shots, got on the boards, and got to the free throw line. We didn’t knock enough free throws down, but the defense was there and I was proud of our effort.
“It was good to get Nathan going. His shot is starting to come around. If he can hit the outside shot, and Carter Mann can score some inside, it opens up things for Jakob Prall and Zac Bonifas to get to the rim. We just want to be playing out best basketball heading into the post-season.”
The win capped a huge week for Tippecanoe, which had lost three straight entering this week’s three game road trip. In winning at Urbana, Bellefontaine and Troy, the Red Devils allowed 99 points. COMBINED!
“We definitely have a lot of low scoring games,” agreed Shirley. “Some people might find it boring, but to me it’s good clean basketball.
“And nothing,” he added with a grin, “beats winning. We are having a lot of fun.”
The Red Devils led 25-21 at the end of a close first half, and both teams suffered through a miserable third quarter. The Red Devils led 32-29 heading into the fourth quarter after the teams combined to shoot 4 of 20 from the floor in the quarter.
The misses continued in the fourth quarter…from the foul line. The Red Devils, who shoot 70% from the line as a team, missed 10 of 19 attempts in the fourth quarter. That, however, was far superior to the Trojans, who missed 6 of 7 charity chances in the final period.
It was a far cry from a week ago for Troy, which drilled state ranked Miami East last Saturday, then rallied from 15 points down to beat Vandalia Butler on Friday. Simply put, it’s hard to win shooting 28% from the floor, 46% from the line, and getting out-rebounded 36-23.
The win continues what is one of the best stories of the season. The Red Devils were 3-20 a year ago, and changed coaches in mid-season. After a 2-4 start, with many of the same players as a year ago, the Red Devils have won 11 of 14, with two of those losses to Versailles and Tecumseh.
Shirley was joined in double figures by Jakob Prall, who had 11. Romello Zaqub led the 6-14 Trojans with 15 points, but no other Trojan had more than 6.
“It has been a bit of a struggle this year,” admitted Shirley, who entered the game shooting just 33% from the floor. “I think it’s starting to come back. The timing is right, and as long as I get it squared away for tournament, we’ll be good.”
I mentioned that the Red Devils don’t seem to care who scores or rebounds as long as they win. The personable, 6-2 senior had the line of the night in response.
“We don’t have the option to care,” he said with a laugh. “We don’t have a dominant presence anywhere, but it’s been almost like a positive thing for us. It forces us to be unselfish, and that’s turned out to be really good for us.”
“We have had to work on that” explained Visser. “We don’t worry about individual stats. Our kids just want to win. They have bought in to the fact that if the opponent can’t score, they can’t win. That’s our motto. Play defense, take care of the ball, and hit the boards. If we do that, our offense will do enough to win games.”
The Red Devils are expecting a high seed tomorrow at the D-II tournament draw, remarkable for a group that won three games last season.
“That’s all the kids,” praised their coach. “Our assistant coaches are awesome. We just coach our kids, getting them to buy into our system, and that’s playing defense. The kids show up every day to go to work. We have 7 seniors and they lead this team. The coaches and I haven’t scored a point or grabbed a rebound all year. They flat-out want it, and they want it for each other. I’m really proud of them.”