AKRON — Friday’s game between host Tippecanoe Valley and visiting Triton was a study in contrasts.
The Vikings shot the ball better than they have all year and sent their lone senior out in style in front of a sizable home crowd, collecting their third win in four games. As fun as the night was for Valley, it was equally frustrating for the Trojans, who struggled to finish their own shots and suffered their third straight loss in a lopsided, 49-29 decision in Akron.
“It was a lot of fun. I knew they could play this way this last few games, and we finally made some shots and it makes everything look better when you do that,” said Valley head coach Chad Patrick. “It still wasn’t the prettiest game at times, but we’re not going to win pretty games, not this year. We’re kind of a blue collar team, and that’s the way we have to win. I’m proud of the kids for buying into that the last month, and we’ve really stepped up and improved a lot.”
“To be honest with you, every game I go into I’m optimistic that this is going to be the game where we’re actually going to hit some shots and we’re going to do some things. Because I see it sometimes at practice. That’s the frustrating part — there’s not much carryover,” said Triton coach Jason Groves. “The last two weeks we’ve had pretty good practices. We shoot the ball well at times and we execute and we’re not playing tentatively, but we get in a game and that all changes. I don’t know. Maybe it’s inexperience. I’m not sure what it is.”
Valley finished the night with 21-of-41 (51.2 percent) accuracy from the floor, including 4 of 11 (36.4 percent) makes from 3-point range. With the Trojans using a diamond-and-one focusing on Vikings point guard Tanner Trippiedi, the home team worked the ball in the middle and finished with 26 points in the paint. Alex Morrison converted half his shots inside for 11 points, and Jace Potter missed just once on his way to eight points for the night. Once it had started converting from the interior, Valley worked from the inside out, knocking down 3 of 7 triples in the second half, including two big, third-quarter 3s by Wes Melanson as part of a game-high, 12-point performance.
“I kind of knew they would do that; they had done it against a few other teams so I was ready for it,” said Patrick of Triton’s diamond-and-one defense. “We worked a lot on it a lot, and when you do that if you get the ball in the middle it makes it really hard. And we ran Tanner on the baseline, which makes that a one-four zone, basically, and your wings and middle are wide open. So we finally got it in there and made some things happen, collapsed it inside-out and got a lot of really good shots inside. And, yes, we finished, and that’s something we hadn’t done. The last three or four games, we got the ball inside some, but Morrison and Jace either weren’t finishing or looking to finish. So I challenged them this week if you get the ball inside you’ve got to go.They did really well tonight.”
While the Vikings took what Triton gave them and had numerous players step up on the offensive end, the Trojans continued to rely on Ross Johnson, who finished the night with a team-high 10 points but needed 14 shots to get there against Valley’s zone. And the visitors didn’t get much other production from their lineup — Quentin Thornburg’s five points and four from Max Slusser was about it — as the Vikings stymied them into 10-of-41 (24.4 percent) shooting.
“We pressed them a little bit, which slowed them down and changed them up. Our zone is a really good zone, and we just keyed on Ross Johnson,” explained Patrick. “We knew he was kind of their catalyst, so we tried to keep the ball out of his hands and just get a hand up on their shooters, and it was really, really effective. The kids played really hard.”
Part of it was Valley’s defensive effort, but part of it boiled down to confidence, or the lack thereof for a Triton team whose shooting woes seem to be multiplying.
“I thought (Johnson) was trying to avoid contact too much, and I told him, I said ‘Just pick it up and take it at them, try to get to the free throw line.’ But he just couldn’t get anything to fall, and it got contagious,” said Groves. “Our confidence right now is really bad. They’re unsure of themselves, unsure of each other and so that’s a tough spot to be in.”
After a nip-tuck opening period and with the game knotted at 8-all headed into the second, Valley took control with a 12-3 stanza to grab a 20-11 halftime advantage. Once there, Valley used a 10-2 spurt in the third period to double up the visitors at 30-15, then continued to build to leads as big as 25 points en route to the win as the Vikings bid goodbye to their only senior Dakota Parker, who finished with perfect 3-of-3 shooting on his way to seven points in the Senior Night start.
“I’m just thankful we had a good game for Dakota. He’s our only senior. Great to send him out this way,” Patrick said. “We had a great crowd tonight. I thank everybody for coming. It’s been a little bit of a rough season, but we’re picking it up at the right time, and I can’t wait for sectionals.”
With its last home game now in the books, Valley (5-15) will close out its Three Rivers Conference season at Maconaquah next Wednesday before finishing out the regular season at Wawasee Friday.
As the Vikings look to continued to build momentum headed into the tournament, Triton (6-12) looks to gain some traction in its final three games of the regular season. The Trojans have an ultra-fast turnaround with a game at John Glenn Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m., then play again at Bremen Tuesday before hosting Knox at Plymouth on Friday in a Hoosier North Athletic Conference-capper.
“We’ll move on and get up in the morning and go play a team that’s really good. They’re big and they do a lot of things. I said ‘So you guys have got to be ready to go. This game is over. Move on. We’ve got to keep focused,’” said Groves.
“I know it’s tough for these kids at this point, but at the same time we want to turn that mentality around. I told them tonight I’m not going to tolerate anything less than going in there tomorrow expecting to win and anything less than our best. Hopefully they’ll respond to that.”