WARSAW – The Warsaw defense has passed plenty of tough tests this season.
The Tigers’ recipe for success is sure to be put to the test again come Saturday.
Warsaw will have to slow the high-octane offense of quick and explosive East Chicago Central in order to extend its season.
The Tigers, who are 17-9, meet up with the Cardinals (15-9) in the second semifinal game of the Class 4-A Michigan City Regional at around 1 p.m. (ET). The 11 a.m. (ET) opener pits No. 17 South Bend Adams (21-4) versus Merrillville (19-7). The winners return to face off Saturday night at 8:30 (ET) to play for the regional crown and a berth in the North Semistate on March 18 at either Lafayette Jefferson or Huntington North.
Warsaw, which beat South Bend Riley and Crown Point to win the regional at Michigan City a year ago, will look to its tried and true formula of team defense to slow the Cardinals. ECC averages nearly 71 points-per-game, led by senior star Jermaine Couisnard. The 6-5 guard, who recently took an unofficial visit to Kansas to see the top-ranked Jayhawks win on Senior Night, averages 27.5 points-per-game.
The Tigers, who are giving up just 41 points-per-game, have to make sure and crowd Couisnard, who loves to drive the ball to the basket.
“It’s nothing different for us, it comes down to defense and rebounding,” said Warsaw coach Doug Ogle. “We have to stay in front of Couisnard with our team. Not one person has been able to stay in front of him. He’s too quick and he has the ability and a knack to get through the smallest openings of a defense. If Kansas is looking at you, you’re probably an NBA caliber player.”
The lightning quick and athletic Cardinals, who lost in the regional semifinal to Crown Point a year ago, beat Hammond Morton 74-69 and Lake Central 67-62 to win their own sectional title. The win over Lake Central avenged a 66-60 loss during the regular season. ECC started the season 5-6 but has won 10 of its last 13 games. Couisnard, who is also averaging 4.7 assists-per-game, had 63 points in the pair of sectional wins and hit eight treys in the two games.
Warsaw, which has never played ECC, dropped five games in the second half of its season to teams with a combined record of 95-28. The Tigers have played against two of the state’s best already this year in Romeo Langford of New Albany and seven-footer Malik Williams of Fort Wayne Snider. Junior guard Langford, who led New Albany to a state title last year, has not committed yet and Williams is headed to Louisville.
Warsaw star guard Kyle Mangas knows a thing or two about Couisnard. The pair have crossed paths on the AAU circuit in the offseason.
“He’s definitely really skilled and I remember that he has deep range on his shot,” said Mangas of the ECC stud. “We just have to keep a crowd around him. My mindset is how can we win the game. I just want the season to keep going. Every game we play is more fun.”
Mangas leads the Tigers at 21.6 points-per-game and is now fourth in program history with 1,379 points. He has scored in double figures 65 times in his amazing career and has been the top scorer for his squad in 57 of 66 games since the start of his sophomore year. Mangas’ season total of 562 points this year is the 11th highest in program history. He is shooting 57-138 from deep and 86.7 percent from the free throw line.
Senior Jeremy David, who had huge back-to-back games in the sectional wins over Central and Goshen, averages 5.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game for the Tigers. Junior Asher Blum checks in at 5.2 ppg., while seniors Braxton Minix (4.8) and Jaceb Burish (3.8) and sophomore Nolan Groninger (3.0) are next in line.
The Tigers, who have eight seniors, beat Northridge 36-33 on a game-ending trey by Mangas in their sectional opener last week. Warsaw then crushed Elkhart Central 71-36 in the semifinals to avenge a regular-season loss and pulled away from Goshen in the second half to a 49-32 win in the title game. It marked back-to-back sectional titles for the program for the first time since 1996-97.
“I think this is a good matchup for us,” noted Ogle. “I’m confident and I think that our players are, too. Winning the sectional buoyed our confidence. We know we can rebound and I’m confident in our defense.”
Warsaw ranks ninth in the state with its defensive average, while the Cardinals are 21st statewide with their offensive output per game.
Warsaw’s notable team numbers include a 101-288 mark from three-point range and a 75 percent free throw shooting mark. The Tigers are plus-eight per game in rebounding, average just 9.8 turnovers per game and are allowing their opponents to shoot just 37 percent from the field on the season.
The Cardinals are far from a one-man show. Jibril Harris, a 6-8 senior, averages 14.7 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Senior guard Alyion Stubbs, who averages 12 points-per-game, is another strong player for ECC.
ECC is coached by Pete Trgovich, who won two national championships as a star player for legendary coach John Wooden at UCLA and then was drafted by the Detroit Pistons. Trgovich led ECC to a state championship as a player in 1971 and guided his alma mater to a state title as its coach in 2007. Trgovich, who is in his second stint at ECC, has won sectional titles in all four of his seasons in charge of the Cardinals.
The Tigers have not played South Bend Adams since the 2013 regional semifinals when the Eagles notched a 48-46 win on a buzzer-beater. Adams is led by the outstanding duo of junior Walter Ellis, a 6-5 guard/forward, and senior Michael Green, a 5-9 guard. Ellis, the son of former Notre Dame star and NBA player LaPhonso Ellis, averages 19 ppg. and Green checks in at 18 ppg. Adams beat a loaded South Bend Riley team twice in three meetings this season, including 73-72 in the sectional first round at South Bend Washington. The Eagles then topped LaPorte 66-63 in double overtime in the semifinals and stopped Plymouth 53-43 in the sectional final.
Warsaw is very familiar with Merrillville. The Pirates beat the Tigers 53-48 in the Tiger Den on Feb. 11. Warsaw led 35-24 at halftime of the afternoon game before Merrillville rallied behind senior Cameron Wilbon. The guard poured in a game-high 28 points to lead the Pirates to the win. Mangas scored 23 points in the game, but was just 7-23 from the field and scored five points in the second half. Warsaw had a quick turnaround for the contest after finishing out its third straight 7-0 season in the Northern Lakes Conference the previous night in a tough, comeback league win at Plymouth.
Wilbon leads the way for the Pirates at 15.6 points-per-game. Senior Jonah Jackson averages 14 points, while junior Johnny Bernard is at 12.5 and senior Mileek McMillan 10.5 for Merrillville.