SYRACUSE – Just two days after coming so close to being upset, the Tippecanoe Valley Vikings basketball team tried to play the role of spoiler on Friday night.
The Vikings took on the NorthWood Panthers and gave Class 3A’s No. 5-ranked team everything it could handle. But in the end, it was the Panthers that pulled out the win in the IHSAA Class 3A Sectional 21 semifinal at Wawasee High School, winning 59-55.
Valley trailed 10-9 after the first quarter but managed to pick up its play in the second and take a 23-20 lead into the final seconds before NorthWood’s Jonathan Wilkinson hit a buzzer-beating three to tie the game up at half. It was Wilkinson’s only three of the night but the senior was one of four Panthers to finish with double-digits, scoring 17 points.
The second half grew even more intense as the Vikings inched close to an upset by taking a 36-33 lead into the fourth quarter. In the final quarter the Vikings lost a big advantage on the inside after Logan Britton fouled out, leaving the Valley defense vulnerable. Once Britton fouled out on what could be labeled a questionable call, the momentum shifted in favor of the Panthers, according to NorthWood head coach Aaron Wolfe.
“I felt the turning point in the game was when Britton picked up his fifth,” said Wolfe. “He was a gritty competitor tonight. It’s not hard to see why they (Valley) have won so many games this season. They matched up well with our three post guys. Once Britton fouled out, I felt our guards did a fabulous job of finding our post players for points inside.”
The Panthers outscored the Vikings 26-19 in the final period to rally for the win.
NorthWood was able to take a lead in both points and rebound differential after Britton’s departure. The Panthers won the battle on the boards 25-20, outshot the Vikings from long range by making six threes to Valley’s three and committed less turnovers.
Those stats ultimately led to the Panthers being able to rise above and hold of the Vikings to advance to Saturday’s championship game.
It was a game that had the right environment as Wawasee’s Hardwood Tee Pee was packed to the gills, there were seven ties and nine lead changes.It was a classic battle between two heavyweights trying to get the knockout on each other.
The Vikings did hit 22-24 free throws in the contest, including 10-10 by senior standout Tanner Andrews, who led Valley with a game-high 20 points.
“Tonight was a great game for Indiana high school basketball,” Wolfe added. “Hats off to Tippecanoe Valley.”
Viking head coach Bill Patrick seemed to agree about the quality of game, of course he wished it was his team that was advancing.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better basketball game,” said Patrick. “You had two good basketball teams tonight and we played probably about as well as we could play. We couldn’t overcome Logan (Britton) fouling out. That allowed them (NorthWood) to get more looks an closer shots inside.”
Back on Jan. 3 the Vikings fell to NorthWood 58-43. Patrick talked about the difference between his team’s performance then and on Friday night.
“We played a lot harder tonight,” Patrick stated. “I think tonight we came out and proved that we are a lot better of a team now then we were back in that game. After Wednesday’s game against Wawasee, we talked to the kids in practice about getting better and what we wanted them to do tonight and they really came out and did exactly what we wanted them to. You can’t ask for more than that.”
Valley will graduate five seniors off of this year’s team, a group of players that Patrick knows he will be hard-pressed to replace.
“We’ll be okay next year,” said Patrick. “We’ll be a little more guard oriented, so, we’ll change a few things around. But, the guys we lose this year are a group of kids that you don’t replace. This was a good group for us, all hard workers and you can’t replace that type of players they were.”
Robby Groom netted 15 points and Chainey Zolman had 14 for the Vikings.
Will Stueve scored 12 points, Braxton Linville 11 and Zach Zurcher 10 to lead a balanced offense for the Panthers.
Valley, which beat NorthWood in the sectional final a year ago, finishes the season at 17-4.
NorthWood is now 20-2 and will take on West Noble (18-5) in Saturday night’s championship game at Wawasee High School. Tip is set for 7:30 p.m. The Panthers topped the Chargers 71-54 in a regular-season contest.