WARSAW — When Wawasee’s bench first rushed the floor in Warsaw Friday night, there were still 50 seconds left on the game clock, and the Warriors were only leading by a tentative, three-point margin. If they were getting a little ahead of themselves, it was certainly understandable: After six straight seasons of futility in the Northern Lakes Conference, a light was finally appearing at the end of the tunnel.
When the last horn sounded on a dramatic, 28-20 win, Wawasee’s student section poured onto the floor at the Tiger Den, and the Warriors and their faithful celebrated the end of that 42-game NLC losing streak on likely the most dramatic stage possible — where the Warriors hadn’t won in over a decade and the Tigers hadn’t lost a conference contest in three years.
Even typically low-key Wawasee head coach Jon Everingham got swept up in the excitement, running up into the crowd in a kind of victory lap that was long overdue for the program. The Warriors’ frustrating NLC streak is one that Everingham has been reluctant to talk about. Now he won’t have to.
“We didn’t talk about it, but it definitely was on our minds. And it’s nice to not ever talk about that again,” said the second-year head coach. “I’m just really proud of the kids for the way they played tonight.”
The end of Wawasee’s losing streak Friday also signaled the end of another significant NLC streak — a 21-game unbeaten mark by the Tigers in Northern Lakes play. As disappointing as the decision was for Warsaw head coach Doug Ogle, he still had to tip his hat to the Warriors (2-3, 1-0 NLC) after the game. After all, the outcome certainly wasn’t due to a lack of effort on his players’ part.
“You appreciate it when you see somebody that has success, and they’ve had such a tough go of it for such a long time. Of course I don’t want it to be us, but you have an appreciation for the team as a sportsman,” said Ogle. “I’m as disappointed as anybody, but if our effort had been bad, if we hadn’t competed I would feel much differently. I’m not happy, but also I have to appreciate what they did in this situation. That’s a tremendous win for them, and I respect that.”
After sitting out all but five minutes of his team’s overtime loss in Whitko Saturday, Wawasee senior Trevon Coleman provided some fourth quarter heroics in Warsaw.
Coleman’s steal high in the half court and fast break layup with 50 seconds left to play pushed his team out to a full possession at 23-20 and touched off the first of the Warriors’ celebrations Friday night. After Warsaw sophomore Brian Elliott’s 3-point attempt on the other end caromed off the rim, Coleman ripped down a big defensive rebound, helping set the stage for teammate Jairus Boyer’s front end of a one-and-one, which gave the visitors some breathing room at 24-20 with under 30 seconds remaining.
With the Tigers (2-4, 0-1 NLC) fouling to stretch the clock, the Warriors got the ball in Coleman’s hands, and he finished off the win at the line himself, draining all four attempts in the bonus over the final 11 seconds on his way to a game-high 10 points. After making the decision to sit him for disciplinary reasons in Wawasee’s non-conference contest Saturday, Everingham couldn’t have been prouder of the way Coleman responded Friday.
“He played five minutes last game, and I told him after the game I loved him. It was a tough lesson for him to learn last week basically not playing,” recalled Everingham. “But I said last week my job is to turn young men into men. It was a hard lesson for him to learn. He’s a great kid, and he responded tonight in a huge way. It says a lot about his character and how far he’s come in the last two or three years.”
While Coleman’s late heroics kept the Warriors out front, it was junior Bennett Hoffert’s big 3 from the corner on a Cayden Wegener swing pass that put Wawasee out front for the last time with 1:29 remaining at the Tiger Den. Nip-tuck games like Friday’s thriller are invariably full of what-ifs and could-have-beens, and for his part, Ogle regretted a decision to pull his team out of its half court trap prior to Hoffert’s go-ahead.
“We were in a halfcourt trap, and we tied it and we tried to get out of it because we had tied it up. And we had gotten kind of lucky that they hadn’t scored in it sooner, the trap, so we tried to get out of it, and we end up not getting matched up and that’s when Hoffert made the 3 from the left wing,” said Ogle. “I told the players that was not a good decision by me. We should’ve just stayed with it and gone with it. That was a mistake on my part.”
Friday’s low-scoring affair was played at just the pace Everingham drew up, and the home team was also content to play at that deliberate speed. But the shooting woes continued as the Tigers — who had scuffled to a 45-for-132 shooting clip over three losses headed into Friday’s game — converted just 10 of 39 (25.6 percent) of their shots against Wawasee. Even worse, Warsaw missed all 14 of its 3-point attempts trying to draw the Warriors out of their zone. And the Tigers weren’t able to make up for any of those struggles at the line, either, as they took not a single free throw in Friday’s home contest.
“I’m kind of at a loss for words on our shooting,” said Ogle. “It just kind of steamrolls. Right now our confidence in our shooting, it’s obviously not very good.”
Wawasee converted at an efficient 9 of 21 (42.9 percent) rate from the floor, meanwhile. The Warriors also turned the ball over just four times in the second half on the way to the win.
“I’ll bet I said ‘attack’ 40 times in the fourth quarter. When they started pressuring us, we had to get the ball to the basket,” Everingham explained. “It’s not necessarily what people think. It is what it is, and you’ve got to be able to attack when they pressure you. If they don’t pressure you, then you do control the ball.”
While Coleman was the lone player in double figures Friday, teammates Jairus Boyer and Jacob Hand put up five points apiece in a game where baskets were at a premium. Warsaw got six points apiece from Tyler Metzinger and Nolan Groninger, the latter securing a game-high five rebounds in a game that saw the Tigers haul in 27 rebounds to Wawasee’s 16 — including 11 offensive caroms that the home team was able to convert to just two second chance points.
The Tigers won’t have long to lick their wounds as they look to end their four-game skid tonight, when they play host to Crown Point. Wawasee plays host to Columbia City on Tuesday. The Warriors ought to be feeling some momentum headed into that non-conference contest, but for now, they’re just going to enjoy Friday’s big win, says Everingham.
“Obviously it’s got to mean something, but we’re going to try to celebrate tonight because it’s been a long time coming,” he said. “We lost a lot of games last year, and we kind of started off a little slow this year. It’s been a long time coming. We’re just going to celebrate tonight.”
Warsaw won Friday’s JV contest, 37-26.
Jaylen Coon led the Tigers with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds in that contest. Ethan Hardy scored 10 with eight rebounds and four steals to pace Wawasee.