ELKHART – Warsaw boys basketball coach Doug Ogle had plenty to feel good about as he left North Side Gym Tuesday night.
Even if his blood pressure had risen to the rafters of the huge, famous old arena in the previous couple of hours.
Ogle’s Tigers toughed out their third two-point win in five days by edging snakebitten Elkhart Central 47-45 in non-conference play.
Warsaw willed itself to another nail biting win thanks to big offense down the stretch from John Swanson and key defensive work from Darren Walcott.
Swanson paced the Tigers with a game-high 14 points and the 6-5 senior helped his team to a dominating rebounding advantage. Rashaan Jackson scored a career-high 12 points and Jordan Stookey turned a strong all-around effort with nine points to go with six assists and three steals.
Walcott forced a huge Central turnover with 10 seconds to play by tying up Terrell Street of the Blue Blazers on a drive to the basket. Walcott’s key defensive stop came with the Tigers holding to a precarious 46-45 lead at the time.
Warsaw won despite shooting just 17-of-44 from the field, including 2-of-12 on 3-pointers, and 11-of-18 at the line. The Tigers, who improved to 8-4 by winning their fifth in a row and for the seventh time in their last eight games, also won with star Jared Bloom off his game. The senior guard, who hit game winning shots Friday versus Northridge and Saturday at Fort Wayne Snider, scored just six points. Bloom, who was scoreless through the first three quarters, finished 2-of-10 from the field and 1-of-5 from the free throw line.
The Tigers held their collective breaths until the end in this one. After Bloom hit the first of two free throws to make it 47-45 with eight seconds left, Taylor Cone grabbed an offensive rebound on the second missed attempt. Cone was then whistled for a phantom traveling call with six seconds to play.
Central, which dropped to 2-7 with its seventh straight loss, then took a pair of timeouts. The Blue Blazers got a good look at the final horn, but a game winning 3-point attempt by Blake Brouwer hit off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
“This is a huge step forward for us to win this game with how our best player (Jared Bloom) struggled shooting tonight,” said Ogle. “It’s a win our guys can be proud of. We’re starting to get tougher and we’re getting stronger mentally as a basketball team. It shows to win three games in five days, all by two points.
“I thought Swanson was huge for us late in the game and Darren’s defense was a big key for us to win this game. Jordan had a very strong all-around game, one of his best games recently. We just couldn’t make a shot in the first half. We were 7-of-27 and I told the guys not to be discouraged because we would shoot better. I would have bet a lot of money that Jared would never be 1-of-5 from the line. He’s an 87 percent shooter there.”
Ogle says his team has come a long way since starting the season 1-3.
“Those first three losses and even the Triton loss (Warsaw’s only one in the last eight games), where they out rebounded and outcompeted us, forced us to take a hard look at our selves,” said Ogle. “Our guy have pride and we have a lot of high character guys on this team. They are competing better now.”
Central, which has lost its seven games by a combined total of just 23 points, led 43-42 with 3:19 to play. The Tigers retook the lead for good with 1:55 to play at 44-43 on a huge rebound basket by Jason Ferguson. John Stahl then missed his fifth straight free throw of the game for Central with 1:32 to play. The Tigers made it 46-43 on a layup by Swanson with 58 seconds left off a gorgeous pass from Stookey. Central cut the lead to 46-45 on a pair of free throws by Tre Taylor with 35 seconds to play. The teams then traded turnovers before Bloom’s free throw with eight seconds left made it 47-45.
“This is exactly the same as the previous six games,” said first-year Central coach Troy Noble about his team’s unbelievable close losses. “We’ve had the lead in the fourth quarter, like tonight, in every one of those games we’ve lost. It comes down to missed free throws and some selfish decisions at crunch time tonight. It’s can you play with a lead late. It’s between our ears.
“I feel for our kids. They keep fighting and have come to battle in the last seven games. They are fighters. No. 5 (Swanson) dominated the game. He was their Kurt Rambis. I don’t think there is a better defender than Tre Taylor in Northern Indiana. He did a great job on Bloom tonight and we have a lot of respect for Jared Bloom. It was absolutely huge for us to have Terrell Street sit most of the first half with two fouls. That hurt our team. He’s one of the best point guards in the area.”
Terrell Street led Central with 12 points in the loss. The senior guard, who scored his team’s first two baskets of the game, sat out the final 14:06 of the opening half after getting two fouls in the first 1:54 of the game. Central led 15-12 after the opening period and 25-22 at halftime. Warsaw was 7-of-25 from the field in the first half, while Central was 9-of-12. Bloom, who entered the game averaging 18.8 points-per-game, was 0-of-6 from the field and 0-of-3 from the line in the first half.
JJ Stahl had 10 points, Brouwer nine and Jaron Walters eight for Central. Central shot 17-of-30 from the field, but were out rebounded 34-15. Warsaw had a key 13-4 edge in multi-chance points in the win.
Warsaw, which has now won its last eight regular-season meetings versus Central, could see the Blue Blazers again come sectional time. Central will host the Class 4-A sectional back at North Side Gym.
Warsaw won the junior varsity contest by a 46-41 final. Cameron Hoskins and Nick Sands each scored 10 points to lead the Tigers. Jake Mangas netted eight points and Jonny Hollar had seven. Aaron Flax scored 11 points and Clinton Parker 10 for Central.
Warsaw (8-4) plays at Northern Lakes Conference foe Goshen Friday night. Central (2-7) travels to Mishawaka for a Northern Indiana Conference game Friday night.