MICHIGAN CITY – Paul Marandet texted his teammates a powerful message Friday night about the toughness it would take on Saturday to take down South Bend Riley in the regional.
The Warsaw guard then went out and showed just how tough he was, both physically and mentally.
Marandet led a drive to the free throw line as he powered the No. 5 Tigers past the Wildcats 79-74 in a double overtime thriller.
Warsaw (24-1) advances to play Crown Point (19-8) in the regional title tilt Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. EST. Crown Point defeated East Chicago Central 67-52 in the second semifinal Saturday.
Marandet muscled his way to a career-high 37 points as he willed his team to the win. The senior, who entered the game averaging 12.1 points-per-game, hit 21-21 from the free throw line. He entered the regional shooting a team-best 83.5 percent from the line on the season.
The Tigers hit 39-45 from the charity stripe, while Riley finished 17-20. The Wildcats, who were whistled for 34 fouls (Warsaw had 18), had four starters foul out. Warsaw hit 14-14 from the line in the pair of four-minute overtime periods, while Riley was 2-2.
Junior guard Kyle Mangas poured in 26 points for Warsaw, going 8-13 from the line.
Reontre Lawrence, the lone senior for the defending regional champion Wildcats, finished a brilliant career with 22 points. Maurice Scott Jr., the junior point guard, and sophomore Damezi Anderson each scored 18 for Riley, which closes the season at 22-6.
This one though was all about Marandet.
“Paul was just unbelievable,” said Warsaw coach Doug Ogle. “He was locked in all week. I texted him Friday night and told him that he needed to lead us today and he did. He needed to rise up and he did big time.
“The free throws were clearly the difference in the game. We kept attacking the basket and getting into the basket area and they kept fouling us. Our free throws have been our secret sauce all year when it comes to our differential there.
“Our guys just don’t quit. They are resilient. They are poised. They have the heart of a champion. We kept taking body blow after body blow and kept coming back. I think in the end we wore them down and we made our free throws.”
Marandet, whose previous scoring best was 22 points, scored 31 of his points in the second half and the pair of four-minute overtime sessions.
“I did not want to lose this game,” said Marandet, who used his chiseled six-foot frame to get to the rack at will versus the smaller Riley guards. “I told our guys to lock it in. I told them this game would come down to being tough. I just wanted to keep attacking and get to the line. I love playing inside and my teammates looked for me. Coach Ogle said that free throws would be a big factor. We just wanted to be aggressive and we knew that they would foul. We kept our poise. We’d been in four overtime games already this year.”
Riley led 57-54 with 20.7 seconds left in regulation after a pair of free throws by Scott. Marandet then converted a three-point play on a drive and free throw to tie it at 57-57 with 15.5 ticks left. Scott then hit two more free throws to make it 59-57 with 13.7 seconds to play. Marandet scored on another drive to the bucket versus the smaller Riley guards to force overtime.
The Tigers led 65-61 in the first overtime on two Marandet free throws with 1:48 left. Scott then hit a jumper and a driving layup with 59 ticks left to tie it at 65-65. Marandet then hit two more free throws with 43.8 seconds left for a 67-65 lead before Scott drained a pair of his own with 37.8 to force another overtime.
Marandet put the Tigers in the lead for good with 3:47 to go in the final overtime on a drive to make it 69-67. Mangas scored six points in the final session to seal the win.
Riley bolted to a 13-2 lead to open the game and led 17-7 after the opening period. The Wildcats were up 27-23 at halftime and 42-37 at the end of the third period. Marandet scored 12 of his team=s 14 points in the third quarter.
Warsaw was 32-35 from the line in the second half and two overtime sessions. Jeremy David was big with seven points and 11 rebounds for the Tigers. Evan Schmidt was 4-4 from the line and Riley Rhoades had three points.
The Tigers were 319-437 from the line prior to Saturday, while their opponents were 177-256.
Riley, which hit 11-25 from distance in the loss, scored a season high on the Tigers. Warsaw entered the regional second in the state in points-allowed-per-game at 38.38. The 79 points scored by Warsaw tied a season high (they beat Wawasee 79-34) and the 74 points allowed was by far a season high (they gave up 53 in a 61-53 overtime win over Fort Wayne Northrop).
“They put their head down and drove and that’s what hurt us,” said Riley coach Mark Johnson. “They just attacked us and got to the line. We needed to step back and wall them off from diving. We got too close to No. 3 (Marandet) and he put his shoulder down and attacked.”