SOUTH WHITLEY — It was exactly the performance the Tippecanoe Valley boys basketball team had been waiting for. The Vikings marched into rival Whitko’s gym Friday night and left with a 64-55 victory following an outstanding performance.
“We played hard and we shot better,” began Valley head coach Bill Patrick. “When you put the ball in the basket, things go better. We’ve been shooting around 30-percent this year and tonight bet we were around 50 or 60 percent.”
Valley came out hot in the first quarter, opening up a 12-4 lead before the Wildcats even had a chance to realize what was going on. By the end of the first quarter Valley’s lead shrunk to be just 18-15, but the Vikings were clearly outplaying their Three Rivers Conference rival.
The hot-handed Vikings continued their dominance in the second quarter and held a 37-29 lead at the break. The only thing keeping Whitko in the game at that point was Nate Walpole as the junior had 22 of the team’s 29 points.
“We were lucky to only be down eight at the break with the way we were playing defense,” said Roger Fleetwood, Whitko’s head coach. “It was awful. Valley was smart, they started with guards and they spread the floor. They basically said this was how they were going to beat us by breaking us down in five different positions. Our guys weren’t ready to play at all to do that.
“The last couple of games when we beat Wawasee and West Noble were the two of the biggest wins that we’ve had since I’ve been here and tonight’s the worst loss.”
Fleetwood had a strong argument. Walpole was attempting to carry a team that was without senior leader Tanner Gaff who missed the game due to an illness. River West was the only other scorers the team had but the support just wasn’t there overall Walpole finished with 27 points, West with 14. Alec Craig had 25 for Valley followed by 18 from Neil Clampitt and 10 from Brandon Webster.
Valley moved the ball, found the support and, as Patrick said, they played hard. Walpole tried to do it all by himself after finding a team that looked disinterested in fighting for the lead for much of the game.
“We got beat by a team that played really good basketball tonight, I don’t want to take credit away from that,” Fleetwood continued. “I don’t want to take credit away from coach Patrick and his team because they did a lot of good things. I appreciate god basketball when I see it. But I’m really disappointed in our approach to the game tonight.
“We didn’t put ourselves in a position to ever win the game. There were at least three times in the second half where we closed the gap to five but turned the ball over. Turned it over. We never even got a shot to get it to two or three points. We just turned it over. All three teams that could’ve made a different for us. We just never got past that five-point hump to put pressure on Valley. But, give them (Valley) credit. They wanted the game more than us.”
Valley’s energy never dropped throughout the game. Regardless of who had the ball the Vikings were playing like a well-oiled machine. One Vikings fan was overheard after the game saying, “That was the best game they’ve played in two years.”
That is a hard point to argue. Valley needed a win badly to get back on track after a tough start to the season. Patrick is just hoping his boys realize what they did tonight and how they did it.
“I think this will be a boost for us,” Patrick said. “I think the kids took some things for granted. We didn’t put the time in over the offseason and we weren’t where we shoudl’ve been to start the season. I think they thought it was going to be easy. But, hopefully they see that when they play hard like tonight, good things happen.”
Valley (2-5, 1-1) will play in the Rochester Tournament on Dec. 29. Whitko (4-3, 1-1) will play at East Noble Tuesday.
Valley won the JV contest over Whitko 42-26. Alex Morrison led Valley with 12 points. Whitko was led by 10 from Spencer Sroufe.