GRITTY TIGERS RALLY PAST VALPO
Ink Free News / Sports on Saturday, January 4, 2020
WARSAW — For most of the first half, the Tigers looked like a team with a holiday hangover.
Indeed, Warsaw’s game with visiting Valparaiso ended the longest layover by the program since the 2011-12 season. The Tigers hadn’t played a game since Dec. 21, and that fact seemed apparent as the home team fell behind by nine points in the first quarter. As a matter of fact, Warsaw was still trailing by nine early in the fourth period, but a 19-10 final stanza cued a come-from-behind, 43-40 win at the Tiger Den.
“We missed some good shots but also we didn’t handle the ball well, and they’re pressure was good. We didn’t handle that very well. We looked like a team that hadn’t played since Dec. 21,” said Warsaw coach Doug Ogle.
“It’s just amazing sometimes how a game can seem like there’s no flow and offensively it’s a real struggle and then you make a couple shots and then people start to loosen up. We got some momentum, and that picked up our defense. It would’ve been easy for our players to cash in when we went down nine at the start of the fourth, but we had too much resolve for that.”
After muddling through 11-for-34 shooting through the first three quarters, the Tigers finally got hot in the fourth, converting 6 of 10 shots from the floor, including a pair of 3s by Wyatt Amiss and Jaylen Coon, the latter of which gave Warsaw its first lead of the night with 3:12 left to play. Free throws by Blake Marsh first pushed the Tigers out to a 40-37 advantage, then re-established a three-point lead with 17.2 seconds on the game clock. An untimely turnover by the Vikings with just 5.6 seconds remaining cost the visitors an opportunity, and Colton Jones’ desperation heave from the wing at the buzzer caromed harmlessly off the rim and signaled the Tigers’ sixth straight win.
“You look at it and say it’s kind of ugly, but in a lot of ways it’s an impressive win. Because Valparaiso has played a difficult schedule, and they’re rugged and their defense is good,” explained Ogle. “I thought our toughness and our grit tonight was something we can be encouraged with.”
“Our inexperience kind of came back to bite us,” said Valparaiso coach Barak Coolman. “We’ve got only four letter winners from last year, so you’ve got guys playing new roles and doing things that they’ve never done before in a good environment, and we just kind of had some shots that didn’t go in, some unadvised shots, some turnovers. We could’ve folded actually, and I felt like we battled and gave ourselves a chance to win or at least to send it to overtime. Obviously disappointing, but really the only way you get this type of experience is to go through these battles. And you hope that this helps you through conference and also into sectionals.”
Despite a significant size advantage by Valparaiso’s lineup, it was Warsaw that won the battle inside. The Tigers matched the Vikings’ offense inside with 18 points in the paint by each team, and they won the battle of the boards 32-24, including a full 14 offensive rebounds for eight second-chance points.
“I think the big thing was we gave up some offense rebounds to them, so they got multiple attempts. They ended up with (14) offensive rebounds, and that was probably the big thing in the fourth quarter where they were making a run, we get a stop, but they go back and get the rebound and then we have to play defense again,” Coolman said.
“If you would’ve told me that we were going to rebound this well, I wouldn’t have thought the game would be this close — I would’ve thought that we would’ve won comfortably. We just shot bad, but our offensive rebounding covered it up,” said Ogle. “We said if we had 12 or fewer turnovers and win the rebounding then we’d probably be happy with the result, and we did those two things.”
Keagan Larsh had a big hand in Warsaw’s success on the interior. He finished with six points as the Tigers did their scoring by committee, pulled down a team-high six rebounds, and his defensive effort pushing big-bodied 6’6” power forward Cooper Jones off the blocks was critical. After scoring six points in the first half, Jones finished with just eight on the night.
“Keagan has been coming on. He practiced well this week, and he is very strong and he is physical,” explained Ogle. “ (Cooper Jones) got one basket early in the second half and we actually started trapping him, and it didn’t work. He was passing out of it, and they were getting layups and different shots so we stopped doing that, but… Larsh was key. His defense, his rebounding, his defense especially on Cooper Jones was impressive from a toughness standpoint when you’re that outsized.”
Warsaw was solid in the backcourt as well, as Marsh and Amiss combined for six assists versus just two turnovers. Marsh led his team with 10 points, while Amiss finished with seven, including five during the critical fourth quarter. Coon scored seven points, Luke Adamiec finished with six, and Brock Poe chipped in five points for Warsaw, which moved to 8-1.
Valpo also got a balanced scoring effort from its players led by Breece Walls’ nine points, followed by Cooper Jones’ eight and six points apiece from Brandon Mack, C.J. Opperman and Mason Jones. The Vikings slid to 6-4 with their second-straight loss.
Warsaw’s JV won Friday night’s opener, 51-33, Graydon Brath’s dunk at the final buzzer putting an exclamation point on the win. Judah Simfukwe scored 18 points with two assists to lead the JV Tigers. Eric Dreher put up nine points with three assists for Valpo.
Warsaw will travel to Culver Military Academy next Tuesday at 7:45 p.m.