AKRON – All the ingredients for a classic basketball game were mixed together Friday night at Tippecanoe Valley.
A recipe for rivalry called for two benches of well-seasoned coaches. A pair of spicy star players, needing a little time to rise. A bowl full of enthusiasm. A TV crew to make the whole production presentable. And mix in a little spice from the home fans toward one of its former sons, and what came of it was a very entertaining 55-51 Tippecanoe Valley boys basketball win over visiting Triton.
A near capacity crowd, along with several media outlets and TV-46’s Game of the Week were treated to another helping of what has become a fierce rivalry between the two neighboring schools.
The home team in the season has won the past four games, and it would come down to the final couple of possessions Friday night. A huge conversion and one by Tanner Andrews with 2:49 to go put Valley up 52-51, which is where the game would stay for the next 2:08.
After Robby Groom, who scored 18 points in the contest, hit a free throw with 30 seconds left, Valley clung to just a two-point lead at 53-51.
Triton would get the look it wanted, with Tanner Shepherd driving to the bucket and eventually fouled. As the Valley fans reigned down chants to rattle the former Viking – who transferred to Triton after his freshman year – Shepherd came up short on both free throw attempts.
Andrews would hit one of his two free throw attempts on the other end, and a pair of Triton three-point attempts late would turn up empty, ushering in a raucous celebration from the home side. Triton, which held a seven-point in the second half, was outscored 17-6 by Valley to close the game.
“We made some adjustments on offense, got Tanner the ball a few more times late and were able to make a couple shots and free throws,” said Tippecanoe Valley head coach Bill Patrick. “When we were down seven, our kids battled back and kept slugging away.”
Andrews finished up his night with 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists but made his hay at the free throw line, canning 11 of 13 attempts.
Shepherd, who finished with a game-high 22 points and several emotion-filled gestures at the Valley student section, did what he could. But as his head coach Jason Groves put it, sometimes things just don’t work out.
“They went inside to Andrews and got to the free throw line, plain and simple,” Groves said. “They did a nice job taking away us offensively. I thought we had trouble scoring a little bit. They made plays down the stretch, we didn’t. They made shots, we didn’t.”
The series between the two schools has been close as one would expect from two of the area’s more successful programs. In the 10 seasons Groves has coached against Tippecanoe Valley, the Trojans are 4-6, with the home team winning seven of those matchups.
“The schools are close and competitive, and Tanner Shepherd was here when he was a freshman,” offered Patrick on the rivalry between the two schools. “From the standpoint of the students, he is playing against former classmates, which adds to it.”
Triton (11-7) itself had won seven of eight games coming in after starting out a very sluggish 4-5 to open the season.
“We’re getting a lot of scoring from a lot of different guys, which has helped our success of late,” Groves said. “I think we executed our game plan, we played decent defense. We took care of the ball, I think only eight turnovers. I think that’s a good recipe for a winning a basketball game. They just made plays down the stretch and we didn’t.”
Tippecanoe Valley (14-3) is as hot as anyone in the state, winning of 10 of its last 11 games dating back to a loss against NorthWood in the NorthWood Holiday Tournament in early January.
The JV game had Valley jump out to a nice lead in the first half and never relinquish it in a 47-29 final. Alec Craig led all scorers with 12 points to pace the Vikings while Trevor Neeley added nine points and two assists and Alex Salmon contributed six points, eight boards and two assists. For Triton, Nate Flenar totaled eight points and four rebounds and Grant Johnson had four points and seven rebounds.
Triton will have a week off before closing out its regular season at home with Knox while Tippecanoe Valley will host Peru Saturday night.