CULVER — Triton had been in the position it faced before. It showed.
Needing a defensive stop in the final 20 seconds of the Culver Boys Basketball Sectional championship game against Michigan City Marquette, Triton showed the calm of a champion. Forcing a turnover in the final seconds, it was fitting Clay Yeo dribbled out the clock as Triton celebrated a 47-46 victory.
Yeo drained a pair of free throws to give Triton the one-point lead, then had to hold on twice as Marquette took its final shots. After the Blazers missed a shot with three seconds to go, Yeo grabbed the rebound and was fouled. After missing the front end of a one-and-one, Marquette called timeout.
The inbounds pass went to Jasmin Biberovikj at midcourt, who then turned and passed it right into the waiting hands of Yeo, who dribbled the ball right in front of the screaming Triton student body as the buzzer sounded, giving the Trojans its sixth consecutive sectional trophy.
“I was just trying to play with a sense of urgency,” Yeo said. “This is my last go-round and it’s win at all costs. Credit our defense, that’s what got us by.”
Yeo was huge as one would expect from a superstar with the season on the line. His stat line included 32 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and three assists, but the harassing Yeo did on Marquette’s Ryan Fazekas, who was held to just six points after averaging near 20 points per game, was admirable.
“Not everybody knows this because everybody sees me for my offense, but I see myself as a pretty good defender, too,” Yeo said.
While Yeo’s monster night was prominent, Tanner Shepherd converted one of the biggest shots of his career. Taking the ball off a screen, Shepherd darted right to the hoop and got the 6-8 Biberovikj to commit the foul as the ball fell through the net. The three-point play gave Triton a one-point lead with less than two minutes to go after Marquette had just taken the lead on a three from Nathan Flores.
“We knew (Biberovikj) was in foul trouble and we were just getting me isolation with a shooter in the corner,” Shepherd said, who finished with nine points. “I was just trying to get to the hoop. I just tried to get contact and we get the and-one. It was nice.”
Marquette (18-6), which held a five-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, had Flores lead the team with 13 points and Biberovikj ended with 11 points and two blocks. The Blazers, which averaged 85 points per game in the two wins to get to the Culver Sectional final, hit 46 percent of its shots but committed 13 turnovers. Marquette was also just 4-13 from three-point range.
For Triton (17-5), the win extends the streak of sectional game victories to 16 dating back to the 2007 season when eventual state champion Oregon-Davis knocked Triton out during the sectional championship game. In that stretch since, Triton has been to the state finals three times, winning a state title in 2008. But the regional final loss last March to Fort Wayne Canterbury is still in the back of the Trojans’ minds. For right now, however, Triton head coach Jason Groves and his boys will savor a truly difficult road to hosting a regional game next Saturday.
“Culver beating us the first time earlier this season, great team, we really wanted to play them again,” Groves said. “That was one thing we wanted was to play Culver and avenge the conference loss. That was a great win for us, an emotional win. Then to turn around to beat a team like Michigan City Marquette, when you see their schedule and what they’ve done throughout the season is pretty impressive.
“The main reason why this is so special is that I did not want to see these seniors go out with a loss in the sectional. These guys have done so much for our program and been such great leaders for us. I’m excited what we are doing right now.”
Triton will host Fort Wayne Canterbury (15-8) for its regional semifinal matchup. Canterbury defeated Lakewood Park 57-56 Monday night in the Hamilton Sectional championship game. The game was moved to accommodate Canterbury as the girls basketball team played and won the 1A state title Saturday afternoon. Triton’s regional game will start at approximately 12:30 p.m.