Caiden Smith’s 22 points and a collective stellar defensive effort gave Tipp its best win of the season…and in a while!
Tipp City – It’s inexplicable, by definition.
It’s why you play the game, by cliche’.
But whatever you call it, Tuesday’s 55-44 win by Joel Visser’s Tippecanoe Red Devils will stand as his best win so far; and frankly, the best, and most complete win by a Tipp team in a long, long time.
To put it factually, you’d have to go back to the Matt Pond days as coach at Tipp, with the likes of Rob Goldsberry, Kellen Zawadzki and company, when they were going 20-0 and winning district titles over Cincinnati Taft, to find a game in which a Tipp team played better…maybe!
That’s open for dispute, of course. But that’s what sports is about, anyway.
But, when you shoot 51% from the field (19 of 37), shoot 83% from three-point range (5 of 6), shoot 12 of 12 from the foul line, and hold an athletic juggernaut like Sidney and soph sensation Andre Gordon to 32% and just 4 points, respectively, well, what’s to dispute? It was something like…perfection!
Perhaps there was some hangover on Sidney’s part (13-4), just four days after knocking off Trotwood, the #5-ranked team (this week’s poll) in the state in Division II. After all, Tipp was just 8-9 coming in.
Or, perhaps it was the infectious play of junior point guard Caiden Smith, who rallied the Red Devils to a near-comeback effort in the two teams’ first meeting back in December.
Certainly you can give some credit to Joel Visser and his staff for a defensive plan that mandated that if Gordon and the ‘Jackets were going to beat them…they’d have to beat them with outside shooting.
“We’d seen them a couple of times this year where they struggled to shoot from the perimeter, something like 26%,” said Visser, afterwards. “We’d seen some teams use specific looks against them. You go with what works.”
And what worked Tuesday was a box-and-one defense and collective focus on the part of the smaller Red Devils to keep Gordon, Isaiah Bowser, Josiah Hudgins, and Allec Gordon in front of them and away from the rim.
In fact, it frustrated, keeping Sidney bottled up in the half-court without benefit of their familiar transition game of layups and thunderous dunks at the other end.
An omen? Back and forth in the first half, Tipp played them even in the first quarter 15-15, and trailed by only three at the half, 27-24. Diminutive Zach Bonifas was literally in Andre Gordon’s pocket, limiting his touches and only then as passes to not-so-open teammates. Another cliche’: Don’t let teams you think you should beat hang around.
In the meantime Caiden Smith was setting an example offensively, getting open looks from three-point range from the wing – slashing through the post to the rim, and getting backdoor looks off the baseline – catching Sidney flat-footed and a step slow in their reaction.
Nothing changed at the outset of the third quarter, and at the 4:53 mark Tipp took its first lead in the second half, 28-27. Smith suddenly became volcanic hot from three point range, hitting three in the span of five possessions to increase the lead to six points.
On the other end Gordon couldn’t answer, and the ‘Jackets began to stand and watch as the frustration mounted. They scored only six points for the quarter and trailed 33-27 at the end.
“He’s so fast, and such a great scorer,” said Zach Bonifas of Gordon. “I knew my job coming in wasn’t to score buckets, but shut him down. That was my main goal and nothing else. That’s what Coach told me to do.”
But as Caiden Smith got volcanic in a good way, Sidney’s Allec Gordon became volcanic in a verbal way, chirping at referee Ed Huey after an offensive rebounding exchange under the bucket and got T-eed up…twice…ejected and out of the game. Trailing by eight at that point, just into the fourth quarter, it put even more pressure on Sidney and swung more momentum towards Tipp.
Andre Gordon finally hit a three-pointer at the four minutes left, and teammate Josiah Hudgins added one of his own moments later, but Smith, Bonifas, and Adam Grieshop kept answering at the other end. The lead stay at 6 and 8 points.
Forced to foul, Sidney sent Smith to the line where he promptly capped his night by hitting six in a row to finish with 22 points…and push the winning margin to 11 points.
“We stuck to our game plan,” said Visser, outside his locker room. “We shot the ball tonight, which we haven’t been able to do. Our defense was great, we rebounded, and we played super hard. I told them inside that this was as close to perfection as you can come against a team that good, a team that just beat Trotwood.
“We got the loose ball, we took some charges, we got to the rim, took care of the ball in the half court, and hit the free throws at the end. We still had twelve turnovers but we did the little things that made the difference in winning.”
Caiden Smith nodded in agreement, that it was a win that he’d remember for a long time. After all, he did it all – scoring, defending…taking a charge. He ended up hitting four of his five attempts from three-point range. Yet another sports cliche’: He led!
“Coach told us inside that if we were going to play this game on paper we wouldn’t win. Why show up? But we gave it everything we had. We wanted to win.
“We ran the box-and-one and it turned out to be a good game plan. Zach (Bonifas) played great defense. This was such a great win, I hope we can bottle it and do it again. I think we will.”
Offensively, the story for Tipp was Smith (22 pts.). But Bonifas (8), Adam Grieshop (10), and Quentin Williams (7) all scored at key points of the game to help keep a lead or extend the margin.
For Sidney, Isaiah Bowser’s quiet 15 points led the ‘Jackets, with Hudgins claiming 9, Phillip McCluskey had 7, and Ryan Heins, Allec Gordon and Andre Gordon each finished with 4 points.
Caiden Smith doesn’t look like the kind of guy you’d bet on going head-to-head with the likes of Andre Gordon, one of the southwest Ohio’s most touted athletes. But he proved that headlines don’t always trump the box score.
He’s also the kicker on Joel Derge’s football team at Tipp, capable of 55 yard field goals if he gets a chance. Uh coach, take a note for next year, Smith’s senior season. Called upon Tuesday, he delivered against the best in the conference.
And who’s going to argue that it wasn’t perfect?